PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was out of the lineup for a second consecutive day on Thursday as the club finished up its Grapefruit League schedule against the Mets at Tradition Field. Manager Matt Williams said Zimmerman has been dealing with a stomach illness that is not considered serious.
Zimmerman's absence means he will complete his spring with a total of two innings at first base, barring an appearance there in Saturday's exhibition game against the Tigers at Nationals Park. Still, Williams suggested that Zimmerman is ready to play the position in a real game, although Wednesday's acquisition of utility man Kevin Frandsen gives the club a more experienced right-handed complement to starter Adam LaRoche.
"He's done a lot of work. He can play over there," Williams said of Zimmerman. "Certainly, [Frandsen] adds to that mix, too. There may be opportunity there, too. I'm comfortable with Zim being over there. He's comfortable with it. His footwork is great. He's done a lot of work that hasn't been seen, because it's on a backfield. Early stuff. He's good."
The plan coming into spring was to get Zimmerman ready to start a handful of games at first against tough left-handed pitchers after LaRoche struggled with southpaws a year ago.
"I think the main part of my thought process was, just to make sure if in fact we got in a situation, we had somebody to play over there," Williams said. "Now that Kevin is here, he certainly has experience. Zim has less experience. But I'm not afraid to do that. He's a fantastic athlete. He catches everything. If it calls for it, and we want to do that, we all feel comfortable we could accomplish that."
Fister leaves Minors start with right lat strain
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Nationals right-hander Doug Fister left Thursday's Minor League start with a right lat strain, bringing into serious question his readiness for the beginning of the season. The setback could mean that both Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark, previously battling for the fifth-starter's job, will open in the rotation.
Fister, who dealt with right elbow inflammation earlier this spring, returned from about a three-week absence to pitch against the Marlins on Saturday. He was scheduled to throw 60 pitches against Minor Leaguers on Thursday morning back at the Nats' complex in Viera, Fla., but came out after the first inning. He'll be re-evaluated on Friday in Washington.
"Not on any particular pitch, nothing involving the elbow, but took him out after his first inning as a precaution," manager Matt Williams said. "He'll see the doc in Washington tomorrow. We'll evaluate from there."
Even before the game, Fister had told pitching coach Steve McCatty that he was feeling some tightness in the lat. While McCatty thought Fister was pitching fine, the lat didn't loosen up in the first inning, and Fister told McCatty he felt "a little tugging." The Nats pulled the plug after only 15 pitches.
"I was not going to let him attempt to get through," McCatty said. "If I told him he was all right to go, he probably would have went out there. You got to be smart in those situations."
Asked if the injury is serious, Williams said he didn't know and that, "It's a little early to tell right now."
Previously, Fister was on track to start on April 6 against the Braves. Jordan and Roark are both scheduled to pitch in Saturday's exhibition game against the Tigers in Washington, and a decision was to be made at that point about who would fill the No. 5 spot in the rotation. While the Nats are not setting anything in stone yet, it appears likely that both will open 2014 as Major League starters.
"They both earned the right to pitch," Williams said. "We'll have to see. We'll have to see how [Fister] feels tomorrow, what the doctor says, where we're at. But right now, we just know he couldn't make it through his start today."
Frandsen joins Nats, excited for opportunity
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Over the past five days, Kevin Frandsen has felt a whole range of emotions.
The veteran utility man, outrighted off the Phillies' 40-man roster on Sunday, forfeited a guaranteed $900,000 contract by opting for free agency, then signed with the Nationals on Wednesday, reportedly for the same amount, plus incentives. He joined his new teammates on Thursday for their final Grapefruit League game against the Mets.
"Ultimately, it went from shock on Sunday to sick to my stomach on Monday, then Tuesday being really confident what I was about to do," said Frandsen, who came off the bench to go 1-for-2 with a double.
Frandsen spent the past three years in the Phillies' organization and much of the past two as a versatile backup infielder and pinch-hitter with the big league club. He figures to fill the same role with the Nats. The 31-year-old can play first, second and third base, is a career .289/.343/.435 hitter against left-handed pitching and last year led the Majors with 14 pinch-hits, although his overall offensive numbers slipped.
Frandsen said he enjoyed his time with Philadelphia and that the coaching staff, especially manager Ryne Sandberg, "meant the world" to him and his family. But this was a business decision, on both ends.
"They made their decision, thought I was roster flexibility, and I didn't feel that way," he said. "I have a lot more pride in myself, I feel like."
Frandsen called it a "leap of faith" to opt for free agency but considers himself a winning big league player and thought he could get that opportunity elsewhere. Although he's barely had a chance to meet his new teammates, he's excited for what the Nats might be able to accomplish.
"I'm jealous of all my buddies in San Francisco that have two rings now," said Frandsen, who was drafted by the Giants and spent time with them from 2006-09. "I want my hands to be a little heavier."
Nats re-sign reliever Gonzalez to Minors deal
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. --Two days after releasing left-hander Michael Gonzalez, the Nationals re-signed the veteran reliever to a Minor League contract.
Gonzalez originally had signed a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training on March 4. The 35-year-old appeared in four Grapefruit League games, giving up four runs on seven hits in four innings, with one walk and five strikeouts.
The Nationals are prepared to enter the season with Jerry Blevins and converted starter Ross Detwiler as the two lefties out of their bullpen. Xavier Cedeno, who also was competing for a roster spot, was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse on Tuesday, giving Washington some solid depth in the Minors.
"That's part of the organizational strength that we have," manager Matt Williams said. "There's only so many spots on the roster. But there's a lot of very qualified folks here. That's a good thing. Mike certainly was late showing up and only got a few appearances."
Gonzalez, who also pitched for the Nats in 2012, posted a 4.68 ERA in 75 appearances for the Brewers last season.
Williams still has not made an official decision about his starting second baseman, although he said he would "take a hard look" at Anthony Rendon for the Opening Day nod. Rendon and Danny Espinosa both could see starts at second this season, although Espinosa also could fit as a utility man. Rendon, recovering from a chest cold, played his third straight game on Thursday and went 0-for-5.
"We have one more game to play [before the regular season]," Williams said. "I think it's premature at this point, still, to declare anybody. But I'm leaning toward Anthony in that regard, but we'll see. He's been sick. We have to make sure he's through his illness and all that stuff. But the last couple of days, he's seemed to come through it fine."