For 10 seasons and 1,119 games, the only position Ryan Zimmerman knew was third base. Since his return from a broken right thumb, Zimmerman has learned a new position, left field, and come to grips with the fact that playing third base may not be the best option for him or the Nationals in the future. On Sunday, however, Zimmerman will take the field at yet another position, his third of this season, and start at first base for the first time in his career. With left-handed starter Jaime Garcia on the mound, left-handed first baseman Adam LaRoche gets a day off and Scott Hairston starts in left.
“That’s part of what I’m supposed to be able to do,” Zimmerman said before Sunday’s game. “I’m ready to do whatever [Manager Matt Williams] wants me to do each day and I’m looking forward to it.”
First base was the secondary position Zimmerman was supposed to play all along this season. Williams told Zimmerman in the offseason to get a first baseman’s glove and prepare to play 10-15 games at first base to spell LaRoche against tough left-handed pitchers. It was to be the beginning, perhaps, of Zimmerman’s potential move across the diamond in the future, his chronic right shoulder becoming more of an issue with his throwing from third base. Zimmerman even played two innings at first base in spring training and has taken grounders there throughout the season.
With Bryce Harper injured, the Nationals had a void in left field and that was an ideal position for Zimmerman to ease himself and his shoulder back into action. He has played the past 12 games there and liked it.
“I like being out there doing whatever I can,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve been playing the bulk of left field with Harp out. I’m enjoying doing that. Give Rochy a day off and go over there and play. Rochy has played great this year so not much time for me to play over there, which is fine. But I’m ready to do whatever.”
LaRoche rests after playing the past 18 straight games. He has been the Nationals best overall hitter, posting a .299/.410/.492 line and 149 OPS+. And even though left-handed batters (.277) have hit Garcia better in his career than right-handed batters (.260), LaRoche is 1 for 8 all-time against Garcia. With Zimmerman at first, the Nationals lineup is also boosted by the addition of Hairston, who hits left-handed pitchers well but has only three at-bats this month.
Zimmerman will return to left field after Sunday, but the game will be a glimpse of one position he may play in the future. When Harper returns, however, sometime next month, Williams has said that Zimmerman will return to third base.
“That’s the position I need to play when Harp comes back,” Zimmerman said. “As far as doing anything different, most of all I’ve been working on left field pretty much because that’s the position I’m going to play the bulk of the time, especially for the next two or three weeks or month, whatever it is until Harp gets back. Obviously that’s a position I’ve never really played so I have to do most of my work there. I’m making some time to do some work at third and first. And once Harp gets a little bit closer, we’ll start doing a little bit more groundballs to get back into that groove.”
So after so many years at third, Zimmerman will have added two new positions to resume in the past month.
“Anything can happen in this game,” he said. “You’ve been around it long enough you learn that anything can happen and you can’t take anything for granted. Like I’ve said all along, the whole point is to help us win as many games as we can and that’s the best plan this year.”
About forty-five minutes before first pitch, the Nationals announced that Denard Span was scratched from the lineup with a stiff back and will be available off the bench. Anthony Rendon will leadoff instead and Nate McLouth, who will start in center, will hit second.
1. Anthony Rendon, 3B
2. Nate McLouth, CF
3. Jayson Werth, RF
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
5. Scott Hairston, LF
6. Ian Desmond, SS
7. Danny Espinosa, 2B
8. Sandy Leon, C
9. Doug Fister, SP
1. Matt Carpenter, 3B
2. Kolten Wong, 2B
3. Matt Holliday LF
4. Allen Craig, RF
5. Matt Adams, 1B
6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
7. Jon Jay, CF
8. Tony Cruz, C
9. Jaime Garcia, SP