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Ryan Zimmerman avoids dangerous broken bat, starts difficult double play

The third base position is called the hot corner because of its proximity to home plate and the quickness in which a well struck baseball can find that area of the field. On Friday night, though, Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman had more to think about than just a ball. There was also a large jagged piece from a shattered bat flying in his direction, which left him little time to decide whether it was worth risking his health to play the ball.

It happened in the fifth inning of Washington's tough 7-6, extra-inning loss to the Atlanta Braves. Speedy outfielder B.J. Upton offered at a high and tight fastball from Nationals starter Tanner Roark, which splintered his bat and sent both jagged barred and ball in Zimmerman's direction. Under normal circumstances it had easy 5-4-3 double play written all over it, but it didn't seem possible that Zimmerman could pull that off while also avoiding being struck by the bat.

It was basically two-part decision he needed to make in a split second, if that. Part one was fielding the ball, which he did and survived. Then he to decide which base to throw to as he collected himself.

He went for it all, but uncorked a wide throw — his shoulder and throwing motion are already concerns — that seemed destined to mess the whole play up. However, second baseman Anthony Rendon showed off some impressive footwork around the base. Once he gathered the ball, he turned and made a strong throw to first baseman Adam LaRoche just in time to finish an impressive double play.

It's a play you have to watch twice to appreciate, mainly because the first time you're fixated on the bat the whole time even when you know the result. The second time you see the play develop a little better and appreciate how difficult and dangerous it was.

It turns out that was only the beginning of a big night for Zimmerman. In the fifth inning, he connected on a three-run homer that temporarily tied the game. But the Nats struggles against Atlanta ultimately continued thanks to Justin Upton's walkoff single in the tenth. On the the early season, Washington is 1-3 against the Braves and 6-0 against everyone else. Last season they were 6-13 against Atlanta.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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