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Posted at 11:54 AM ET, 04/11/2011

What would the Nationals look like without Ryan Zimmerman?

The Nationals’ offense, through nine games, has scored four runs per
game, tied for 17th in the majors. That’s propped up slightly by the six runs – 17 percent of their total – they’ve scored in extra innings. As a team, they’re hitting .217 (26th) with a .321 on-base percentage (16th) and a .328 slugging percentage (25th). They’ve had trouble getting clutch hits – they’re batting .175 with runners in scoring position – but they are mostly at least getting by.

Now imagine if, on the eve of a series against a pitching staff that has been touted as an all-time force, you take away their best hitter.

You can get in trouble trying to speculate about injuries, but it seems at least possible that Ryan Zimmerman will miss some time, maybe even land on the disabled list. The Nationals do not yet have any better idea about the severity of his abdominal strain, which he aggravated Saturday night. The Nationals lineup is a little thin with him. Without him, it would start to look supermodel skinny.

Yesterday, when Zimmerman sat out, the Nationals shifted their lineup so Rick Ankiel hit second, Jayson Werth batted third, Danny Espinosa hit sixth and Alex Cora played and batted eighth. There are plenty of ways the Nationals could adjust – maybe Espinosa could hit second – but none of them are all that palatable.

(It should be noted, I suppose, that the Nats managed a season-high seven runs in their first game without Zimmerman, who is hitting .357/.486/.536. Then again, just three of those came in the first nine innings.)

Zimmerman’s potential – again, just speculating – prolonged absence could potentially hasten Wilson Ramos’s ascension as the everyday catcher. In a Nationals lineup without Zimmerman, everyone else’s slugging would become more necessary. Ivan Rodriguez is slugging .342 with six homers in his last 590 at-bats.

If Zimmerman does land on the DL, what are the Nationals’ options? They could temporarily consider Jerry Hairston a full-time infielder and call up Roger Bernadina. (Bernadina missed the first four games of Class AAA Syracuse’s season addressing a family matter, but he was expected to fly back to the team last night.) Or they could bring up Brian Bixler from Class AAA Syracuse for infield depth. Bixler, who had a great spring, would provide the added benefit of another right-handed bat, whereas Bernadina would give the Nationals an all-lefty bench on days Hairston would play third.

We should have more information on Zimmerman by tomorrow, or maybe even later today. The day off may do wonders for his abdominal muscle, and maybe he’ll be back in the lineup Tuesday or Wednesday. The alternative, for the Nationals, is not pleasant to consider.

By  |  11:54 AM ET, 04/11/2011

 
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