Much was made of Ryan Zimmerman’s position change when he returned on Tuesday after missing 44 games with a broken right thumb, and deservedly so. After 10 years of manning third base for the Nationals — brilliantly for much of that time, but a struggle of late — Zimmerman learned a new position because he understood the limitations of his body and the team’s current needs.
A large part of the reasoning behind the decision shouldn’t be overlooked: Zimmerman learned and played left field on Tuesday and will see the majority of time there for the next month because it is a way to get his potent bat in the lineup. Zimmerman, one of the Nationals’ best hitters, fills a void in left field while Bryce Harper is about a month away from returning from his left thumb surgery. Zimmerman, who doubled twice and drove in a run on Tuesday, adds production at a position where the Nationals had relatively little.
“It’s nice to have it the way we wanted to have it initially,” Manager Matt Williams said of the near-intact lineup. “We’re still missing a guy but we’re good.”
Zimmerman was off to one of the best starts of his career when he broke his right thumb diving back to second base on a pickoff on April 12. He was hitting .364/.405/.636 with two home runs and six RBI in 10 games in March and April. The Nationals found a capable replacement for Zimmerman’s bat and infield defense with Anthony Rendon sliding over from second base.
The rest of the infield defense was brilliantly solidified with Danny Espinosa playing every day at second. And for the first month, Espinosa’s bat was a pleasantly surprising addition, too. Espinosa struggled mightily in May and the Nationals need him to regain his April form, but left field was also an offensive weak spot. So adding Zimmerman there doesn’t disrupt the infield defense and weakens fewer positions.
Zimmerman’s addition to the lineup is notable because of what he will replace. Nationals left fielders posted a combined .702 OPS this season, good for 19th in the major leagues. Nate McLouth, who has improved of late, is hitting .180/.305/.250 and has started 18 games in left field. Kevin Frandsen is a valuable utility man and has provided some important hits, but he is has a slash line of .233/.296/.311 and started 11 games in left. Zimmerman’s OPS so far this season (1.090 in 11 games) is nearly as much as the OPS of Frandsen and McLouth combined.
With Zimmerman’s bat back in the lineup as the No. 5 hitter on Tuesday, Ian Desmond dropped down to No. 7. Zimmerman added another big bat behind cleanup hitter Adam LaRoche as protection and pushed hot-hitting Desmond down. Before Zimmerman’s return, the Nos. 6 and 7 spots were manned mostly by Desmond, Espinosa and McLouth. On Tuesday, the Nationals’ Nos. 6 and 7 hitters belonged to Wilson Ramos and Desmond, both an improvement for those spots, and added more length to the lineup.
“It just gives headaches to the other team,” center fielder Denard Span said. “You’ve got Jayson, Ramos and LaRoche, and you’re adding Z back it the lineup. It just makes the lineup so much deeper and doesn’t give the other pitchers a break.”
FROM TODAY’S POST
Ryan Zimmerman’s embrace of move to left field is all about winning, writes Barry Svrluga.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
Jordan Zimmermann bounces back from rough May with eight scoreless
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 5, Indianapolis 1: Taylor Hill allowed one run on seven hits over six innings. His ERA sits at 1.57. Xavier Cedeno struck out two over two scoreless innings, and has a 1.50 ERA. Wander Madrigal fired a scoreless ninth. Zach Walters hit his third home run and Steven Souza Jr. hit his seventh of the season. Brian Goodwin, hitting .213, walked twice and drove in a run.
Reading 5, Harrisburg 1: Zach Kroenke allowed two runs and walked two over five innings. Neil Holland allowed three runs. Matt Skole, hitting .219, drove in the Senators’ lone run.
Wilmington 5, Potomac 3: Matthew Spann allowed three runs, two earned, on five hits over six innings. Gilberto Mendez took the loss for allowing two runs over two relief innings. Randolph Oduber went 3 for 4 with an RBI. Khayyan Norfork hit a home run. Shawn Pleffner also drove in a run.
Hagerstown 8, Delmarva 5: Lucas Giolito, in first start since May 11 because the team wanted to give him rest to stretch him out over an innings-capped season, allowed only three hits and struck out five over three innings. Nick Pivetta allowed four runs and struck out four over four innings. Drew Ward hit his fifth home run. Narciso Mesa collected three hits and drove in three runs.