Matt Williams removes Ryan Zimmerman from close game late for defense

Ryan Zimmerman executes a pair of high-degree-of-difficulty plays at third base on Wednesday. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

brushback_harperOnce the Nationals took a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning of Wednesday’s 4-3 win that clinched a sweep of the visiting Rockies, Nationals Manager Matt Williams made a defensive swap in the top of the next inning that may be repeated throughout this season, at least when Ryan Zimmerman plays third base and the Nationals are leading. With a 4-3 advantage, Williams took Zimmerman out of the game, moved Anthony Rendon from second to third and brought Danny Espinosa in off the bench.

Why?

“At that point, we want our finest defense in there,” Williams said. “We want to make sure that in a tight game like that we do that.”

As Williams confirmed, the Nationals’ best infield defense is with Rendon at third and Espinosa at second. But for the past three games since Bryce Harper returned to the team, Williams has opted for offense — with Zimmerman at third, Harper in left and Rendon at second — over defense. But once the Nationals take a lead, he is willing to push Zimmerman, one of the team’s best hitters, to the bench for defense.

“I think it’s the right move,” Zimmerman said after the game. “I’m still getting used to playing third again. Like I’ve said the whole time, Anthony has played the hell out of third base and Danny is one of, if not the best, defensive second basemen in the game. If we’re up late in the game, I have no problem doing that. I think it gives us the best chance to win.”

In his first three games back at third base since April, Zimmerman has played well, reassuring those who doubted he couldn’t handle his old position again because of his worn right shoulder. His reflexes are still quick and his years of experience an asset. His throws haven’t always been pretty but they don’t have to be; he has made all the necessary ones so far. On Monday, he made a difficult, across-the-body one-hop throw deep in the hole for an out. In the seventh inning, he dove to his left for a sharp groundball from DJ LeMahieu and fired a throw from his knees to first for an out, an impressive overhand throw with no legs behind it.

But in a close game with the Nationals ahead, Williams and Zimmerman agreed on Rendon at third and Espinosa at second. The downside, however, will be the Nationals losing a crucial at-bat from Zimmerman late in the game when, perhaps, the score becomes tied. Zimmerman, the self-aware and team-first player, has no issue with that.

“I think with our bullpen we expect to hold a lead after the seventh inning, whether it’s one run or five runs,” he said. “You gotta put your best defensive players in and right now that’s Anthony and Danny.”

FROM THE POST

Ian Desmond’s replay-reviewed home run pushes the Nationals to 4-3 win over the Rockies, writes Adam Kilgore.

Bryce Harper runs his mouth, but Matt Williams runs the team, writes Jason Reid.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Nationals announce five international signings

Aaron Barrett altering mechanics after balk

Danny Espinosa remains the Nationals’ odd man out

For Jayson Werth, a possible turning point

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Lehigh Valley 2, Syracuse 1 (10): Taylor Hill allowed one run and struck out three over six innings. Manny Delcarmen fired two scoreless innings and Xavier Cedeno added a spotless frame. Daniel Stange walked two and allowed a run in the 10th. Emmanel Burriss went 3 for 4 and Jeff Kobernus went 2 for 5.

Harrisburg 6, Richmond 2: John Simms allowed one run on six hits over 6 1/3 innings and struck out five. Tyler Herron blew the save but earned the win. Robert Benincasa fired a scoreless ninth. Matt Skole went 2 for 3 and drove in two runs. Rick Hague drove in three runs.

Wilmington 4, Potomac 0: Ian Dickson allowed three runs over five innings. Shawn Pleffner and Pedro Severino had Potomac’s only hits.

Hagerstown 8, Lakewood 1: Lucas Giolito allowed one run on four hits and struck out five over seven innings. He improved to 4-2 with a 2.19 ERA. Carlos Lopez went 3 for 5 with two doubles and RBI. Spencer Kieboom and James Yezzo both added two hits each. Yezzo also drove in two runs.

Mahoning Valley 2, Auburn 1: Drew Van Orden allowed two runs, one earned, over two innings and took the loss. Chase McDowell fired two scoreless and struck out four. Austin Davidson hit a solo home run in the ninth.

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