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03/01/2013 9:54 PM ET

Zimmermann taking next step with changeup

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The first thing Jordan Zimmermann wanted to do was learn to throw a good changeup. By his reckoning, it took three years.

The Nationals right-hander said after pitching three innings in Friday night's come-from-behind 6-5 win over the Braves at Champion Stadium that he thinks he's done that and now just has to figure out when to use it most effectively. This can't be good news for National League hitters, considering that the 26-year-old said his changeup was "not good" last season ... when he went 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA.

"It just adds to his arsenal," said manager Davey Johnson. "That's a great pitch if he can get them off his hard stuff. The batters took some funny swings off it. Adding this pitch just makes him that much tougher."

Against the Braves, Zimmermann used the changeup effectively to retire Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla, but also threw one immediately following a curve to Juan Francisco, who hit it back up the middle for a single.

"It feels really, really good. I wanted to throw it about every pitch, but I knew that wasn't the right thing to do," Zimmermann said with a laugh. "It's definitely learning when to throw it and the right times. That's the next step.

"It was obviously not good last year, and I didn't throw it nearly enough. I worked on it a lot this offseason. It felt good this offseason, and I kept working and working. I think the big thing for me was that I kept cutting it off instead of reaching out and extending. So I had no control, and it was way too hard. Obviously, it's a lot slower now, and I have a much better feel for it."

Rested Clippard enjoying spring plan

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The fact that Tyler Clippard hadn't pitched yet this spring had become something of a running joke in Nationals camp. But it was all part of the plan to bring a reliever with 224 appearances over the last three seasons along slowly. And he happily went along.

"Absolutely. We talked early this spring that this is what we want to do. I'm glad they're letting me do that, take my time and get ready for April 1," Clippard said. "I've had a heavy workload. So there's no reason for me to come in here and kill myself. I'm not really going to change anything or do anything drastically different this spring. It's just getting my body and arm ready for the season, and that's what I'm going to do."

Clippard made his Grapefruit League debut in Friday night's 6-5 win over the Braves at Champion Stadium, pitching a 1-2-3 sixth inning, and he said he has plenty of time to get ready for the regular season.

"My fastball and changeup are pitches for me that are usually there," the reliever said. "I could probably pick up a baseball in December and throw those pretty effectively. It's just the breaking pitches that are the ones you have to get a feel for."

Young Rendon making most of spring at-bats

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Davey Johnson was asked, half-jokingly, if infielder Anthony Rendon had a chance to make the Nationals' roster out of Spring Training.

The questions were understandable because Rendon was the sixth player taken overall in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, is ranked the organization's No. 1 prospect by MLB.com, and was batting .417 with a 1.250 OPS going into Friday's night's game against the Braves at Champion Stadium.

The manager's response was just as predictable, since Rendon is still only 22 years old and has played a total of just 43 games in the Minor Leagues.

"No. He needs the reps. He needs to go play. He only had five or six games [this spring]," Johnson said with a laugh, adding that nobody should overreact if he's still around on March 29 when the Nats come home to play their final exhibition against the Yankees. "You always need to carry a couple guys extra for those games."

In the 6-5 win over Atlanta, Rendon entered the game as a defensive replacement and went hitless in one official at-bat, but also walked and scored a run.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.