MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Stewart playing his way into valuable role

With strong spring backing him up, veteran could step in at third base if Rendon isn't ready

Stewart playing his way into valuable role

JUPITER, Fla. -- Third baseman Ian Stewart signed a Minor League contract with the Nationals last December in hopes of being one of the left-handed hitters off the bench.

But ever since Anthony Rendon went down with his left knee sprain on March 9, Stewart has played almost every day at third base and has taken advantage of the situation, hitting .323 with three home runs and four RBIs in 16 games.

If Rendon is not ready for Opening Day on April 6 against the Mets, Stewart will be considered a candidate to start at third base. He is competing against Kevin Frandsen, Danny Espinosa and Cutter Dykstra for more playing time.

Stewart nabs Ciriaco

The last time Stewart played regularly was in 2010, when he was with the Rockies. That year, he hit .256 with 18 home runs and 61 RBIs.

Stewart said hard work during the offseason is the reason he is having a great spring. He also said working in the cage with hitting coach Rick Schu has worked wonders.

"[Schu] got my hands in a good position to fire. The rest is up to me at that point," Stewart said. "It's nice to be able to get the at-bats here, be able to play and do well at the same time, showing that I'm ready if Anthony is not."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.