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New position, same Zim

Jun 3, 2014, 11:50 PM EST

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

Seeing Ryan Zimmerman trot out to left field moments before the Nationals took on the Phillies Tuesday night was certainly an odd sight for those who have watched the two-time Silver Slugger over the years.

Playing his first MLB game ever in the outfield – after 1,120 professional games as an infielder – Zimmerman may have looked out of place to the 25,291 in attendance and to those watching on television.

For all the focus on how he would settle into his new role, however, Zimmerman reminded us of something perhaps we had overlooked: the guy can flat out hit.

Zimmerman wasted no time at the plate in Tuesday night’s 7-0 win over the Phillies, crushing a double down the left field line in his first at-bat. He took one pitch, then put a heck of a swing on a 90 mile per hour fastball from David Buchanon.

Zimmerman finished 2-for-4 on the night with two doubles and an RBI, picking up right where he left off when he fractured his right thumb in a game against the Braves on April 12.

Even after a seven-week absence, he is still wielding a hot bat. Zimmerman explained why his timing has returned so quickly after the win.

“I have just been fortunate enough to get a lot of at-bats at a young age, learn my swing and learn which pitches I can handle and which ones I can’t,” he said.

“Just not trying to do too much when you first come up. People try to make up for the time that they’ve lost, if you’re trying to do that then you’re going to dig yourself into a hole. You just gotta stay within yourself and trust what you’ve done for years.”

Manager Matt Williams gave his theory on why Zimmerman can adjust smoothly after coming off the DL.

“He hits the ball the other way so well, so he can stay on a pitch, that’s his natural stroke. So it happens quickly for him, quicker than most, because he can do what he did tonight – get a two-strike pitch and hit it down the right field line. I think that’s the biggest thing for him – he just stays on the ball really well.”

Zimmerman’s second double was in the fifth inning. He went the other way on a slider with two outs, sailing a line drive over the head of Phillies right fielder Marlon Byrd. The hit brought home Denard Span and put the Nats up 4-0.

The Nationals scored seven total runs against a reeling Phillies team, a good indication for their offense moving forward. After recording 19 runs through two games against the Rangers over the weekend, their bats fell cold in a 2-0 loss at the hand of Yu Darvish on Sunday. Perhaps this win reaffirms they are beginning to turn a corner now as they near full-strength.

Putting Zimmerman back in the mix leaves only Bryce Harper out of their Opening Day lineup. Injuries caught up to the Nationals in May as they finished third from the bottom of MLB in runs scored. Now with almost everybody back, their lineup stacks up quite favorably no matter their opponent on a given night.

“You got a guy like Ian [Desmond] hitting seventh with 11 home runs. We have a talented team, we just have to get healthy,” Zimmerman said.

“Every team goes through injuries in the year, so it’s not an excuse, I don’t think we’d ever use it as that. But it’s always more fun when you have the guys in your lineup that – I wouldn’t say are supposed to be there – but slated to start there at the beginning of the year.”

Now, for the defense. Only twice was Zimmerman tested in left field, and both times he caught the flyballs that were hit to him.

The first came in the top of the fourth inning with Chase Utley batting against starter Jordan Zimmermann. Utley lofted a low flyball to left that forced Zimmerman to charge in towards the infield. He caught it on the run in full stride and never took an awkward step in the process.

Zimmerman looked natural enough on the play to impress Span, who knows a thing about playing sound defense himself.

“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting him to close on it as fast as he did,” Span said. “I thought if he was going to catch it maybe he would have to slide or dive. I kind of was looking at the ball with keeping him in my peripheral and all of a sudden I just saw him close on the ball.

“It was pretty impressive. I think after the inning I told Tony [Tarasco] ‘that was pretty good.’ Especially for his first game out there, going after a ball like that.”

Span has improved on offense recently as the team has seen players return from the disabled list. With Zimmerman back, he now hits leadoff in a pretty deep order.

“It just gives headaches for the other team,” Span said. “You got Jayson [Werth] and [Wilson] Ramos and [Adam] LaRoche and you’re adding Z back in the lineup, it just makes the lineup a whole lot deeper and it doesn’t give the other pitchers a break.”

At some point Zimmerman will be presented bigger challenges defensively in left field, a position he is essentially learning on the job. The mistakes will happen eventually. But for a first crack it it, Zimmerman fared well, and there’s no questioning his impact on the Nationals’ lineup.

“We saw tonight what he can do offensively,” Williams said. “It’s nice to be able to have it the way that we wanted to have it initially. We’re still missing a guy, but it was good.”

  1. veejh - Jun 3, 2014 at 11:58 PM

    Harper to 2nd. There, everything is solved. LOL.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 4, 2014 at 12:00 AM

      Or back to catcher? And Wilson Ramos to 2nd?

      • David Proctor - Jun 4, 2014 at 12:51 AM

        I would do anything to see Ramos turn a double play.

      • veejh - Jun 4, 2014 at 12:59 AM

        If Adam Oates was manager, this would happen.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 4, 2014 at 8:03 AM

        Would YOU want to go in hard on the Buffalo to break up that DP?

  2. sjm308 - Jun 4, 2014 at 12:02 AM

    Late to the Insider as I was at the Patty Griffin show at the LincolnTheater. Checked the score after the opening act. 5-0 in the 6th so I was pretty sure we would be ok.

    Nice to read the Instant Analysis and also check the box score.

    0 errors always makes me happy.
    0 runs for the other team is pretty darn good as well

    Questions and maybe they have been discussed and I just missed it. For those who are all upset about Zimm throwing from the outfield. 1. How many strong throws have we seen this year from any of our outfielders??
    2. During a game, how many times is that strong throw needed?
    3. If he just hits the cutoff man, won’t that work 95% of the time?

    I don’t have answers, but to #3, if he can just find the cutoff man, I don’t think we will lose that many extra bases or runs to his arm.

    All that being said, if Span continues doing what he has been doing for the last few weeks, I think you have to seriously think about Zimm back at 3rd and Rendon to 2nd. when Harper returns. Good news is we have about a month to see how things play out. Wouldn’t it be great if its the FIRST PLACE Washington Nationals having to make the tough decisions.

    Go Nats!!!

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 4, 2014 at 12:14 AM

      1. Not sure.
      2. Not often.
      3. Yes.

      • sjm308 - Jun 4, 2014 at 12:19 AM

        Thank you MR. Oregon

  3. Eugene in Oregon - Jun 4, 2014 at 12:15 AM

    Astros’ Jon Singleton: First MLB hit = HR.

    • therealjohnc - Jun 4, 2014 at 10:15 AM

      And two errors at first base!

  4. ArVAFan - Jun 4, 2014 at 6:29 AM

    From the Post:

    “After a rough stretch last month, Zimmermann pitched like himself Tuesday thanks to better command and a better feel for his slider, the pitch he pairs with his fastball to neutralize right-handed batters. In past starts, the pitch was “a little flat.” Against the Phillies, it was sharper and, because of the humidity, he said he was able to have a better feel for the pitch in his hands.”

    If it’s humidity that helps Zimmermann pitch well, he should be awesome this summer. If there’s anything we have in DC (besides political hot air) it’s hot, damp air.

    Fun game last night. I want extra credit from my trainer for all the jumping up and down to cheer (Zim, Zimm, and all those runs).

  5. water47 - Jun 4, 2014 at 6:38 AM

    Hmmm… take two ZIms and all is well for Today!

    Now, let’s start making some noise. GYFNG!

  6. laddieblahblah - Jun 4, 2014 at 6:46 AM

    Could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a left-handed Yadier Molina protecting the plate in a 2-strike count, and then poking an outside pitch into the hole at SS for a hit.

    Then I looked again, and it wasn’t Molina, but DANNY ESPINOSA! He did the same thing in his 2nd AB.

    I must have been hallucinating.

    • ArVAFan - Jun 4, 2014 at 6:57 AM

      Well, whatever it is you’re drinking, please have another one tonight! (and tomorrow . . .)

    • natsjackinfl - Jun 4, 2014 at 7:13 AM

      And then he sees Desmond go deep and immediately strikes out in his next 2 at bats. For the love of the long ball.

      • Doc - Jun 4, 2014 at 8:03 AM

        Babe Ruth Syndrome—a lot of 2B guys have it!

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 4, 2014 at 8:38 AM

        I never thought I would suggest that Desi study Espinosa’s approach at the plate, especially with 2 strikes. But Danny usually relapses into the same old bad habits, in due course, anyway.

        Maybe this time will be different, but I must have written that, right on this site, a dozen times over the past 3 years.

        I don’t get Desi. He can be very effective going to RF, and he still does, at times. but he has fallen in love with pulling the long ball into the LF bleachers, and that love affair must be too emotional for him to handle an immediate breakup, which might prove to be traumatic.

      • therealjohnc - Jun 4, 2014 at 10:27 AM

        Laddie, under Riggleman’s “tutelage” Desmond spent two seasons trying to shorten up and go to right field. Two seasons (2010 and 2011). And he was dreadful at it – the result was that he didn’t hit for average OR power.

        For whatever reason, Ian is a plus hitter when he’s being himself. It’s like wishing that Yogi Berra or Vlad Guerrero had plate discipline, or that Ted Williams would go the other way against the shift. it’s not that easy to rewire an athlete’s brain.

      • texnat1 - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:19 AM

        Agree with John. Desi is who he is. You have to take the bad with the good.

    • dcwx61 - Jun 4, 2014 at 9:53 AM

      Luckily we were all brought back to reality in his last two abs

  7. water47 - Jun 4, 2014 at 6:57 AM

    So Svrluga has a good aritcle in the post – Zim wants to Win but Zim also notes that the window is the next two years. Desi and JZimm contracts will expire then and baseball is a business.

    • bowdenball - Jun 4, 2014 at 9:38 AM

      Zim doesn’t really say that the window is the next two years. He says they’re currently in a window to win and that this team as currently constructed will only be together the next two years.

      Basically he’s saying nothing is guaranteed after 2015, not that the window will close. Personally I don’t see any reason the team can’t be competitive well beyond that. Desmond will likely get an extension, meaning the only core pieces that will move on after 2015 will be Zimmermann and Clippard. Bullpen guys are always replaceable, and we already have a replacement lined up for JZimm. Obviously we’ll lose veteran free agents like LaRoche and Soriano but they can be replaced with other veteran free agents.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 4, 2014 at 9:43 AM

        That was my reading too–Zim wasn’t saying the window closes for the Nats after 2 years, but that this current group of players won’t all be together after 2 years.

        If you really wanted to read between the lines, you could try to parse that for Zim’s view of what happens with the options of Span and ALR for 2015. But that would definitely be over-reading it.

      • texnat1 - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:20 AM

        Who is the replacement for JZimm? Giolito? Fister becomes a free agent at the same time, right?

  8. Nats fool - Jun 4, 2014 at 6:59 AM

    Haven’t been able to comment for a while. Last year I was one of those who advocated trading him. But I have a child on a baseball team. Everyone wants to pitch, as baseball parents are aware. His willingness to learn a new position goes beyond helping the Nats, it sends a great message to children about teamwork. He provides a great role model. He has a guaranteed salary, so this is all about his character and wanting the team to win. Next time my son even hints at a whine, I can tell him about Zimm.

  9. natsjackinfl - Jun 4, 2014 at 7:23 AM

    And veej. I’m extremely disappointed in your “chicken little” approach to the Zimmerman move to left field.

    For the next 6 weeks, Zimmerman will man left field athletically with an occasional spot at 3rd and 1st. How is that being a $10 Mil utility guy? In 6 weeks when Bryce returns the situation will be clarified by either Span or Espinosa going to the bench but just as likely, having some other sort of injury/roster move cause a completely unforseen situation.

    Relax.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 4, 2014 at 7:47 AM

      Jack, if Span were to be benched with Harper’s return that would be a pretty iffy outfield. Jayson Werth, one of my very favorite players, is playing a very poor right field. Denard Span, with his range and radar,makes both of them better. I like Bryce, but he is far from being a great outfielder.

      Also, for those raving about Michael Taylor, his numbers look very good at face value, but the guy is also leading his league in strike outs, the porch in the park where he has 15 homers is very short. He may develop into a fine major league player, but right now he is very raw. He does have blazing speed.He is a 5 tool player, but so was Justin Maxwell, who had a very similar long, looping swing.

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 4, 2014 at 8:41 AM

        Good analysis on Taylor, Joe.

    • Candide - Jun 4, 2014 at 9:20 AM

      In 6 weeks when Bryce returns the situation will be clarified by either Span or Espinosa going to the bench…

      Jeeze, I hate to see Span go to the bench while Espinosa is still looking like a knucklehead at the plate. I guess it all depends on the state of RZimm’s shoulder.

  10. Joe Seamhead - Jun 4, 2014 at 7:53 AM

    Ultimately, the best case, as Jack said, is that Zimm plays a passable leftfield until Bryce is ready to come back, and a spot start at third. If he can still play a decent 3B, you get through 2014 with him there, and your original opening day outfield.

    • natsjackinfl - Jun 4, 2014 at 8:01 AM

      I certainly agree that replacing Span with Harper in center really weakens the outfield defensively and am just listing the possible scenarios. I have no doubt that Zim in left can be an upgrade over everybody except Harper and even then, I think Zim would be more apt to utilize his cut off man than Bryce.

      I really believe the whole situation will take care of itself in 6 weeks. I’ll wonder (certainly not worry) about it then.

    • sjm308 - Jun 4, 2014 at 8:02 AM

      Actually not just your opening day outfield but your opening day lineup!

      Remember also that Corey Brown was also a five tool AAAA player. How can we forget

    • laddieblahblah - Jun 4, 2014 at 8:52 AM

      Somehow, Zim’s throwing motion from 3rd was better during the 2nd half last year. I wonder if he was getting more cortisone shots to get him through the rest of the season. Regardless, the shoulder problems are on-again, off-again, as last year’s 2nd half showed. I saw him make an apparently pain-free overhand throw in LF last night.

      I think Mike will figure this out, and use his players to best effect. Having Zim back will make that easier. He can still swing the stick. With power hitters from 2 to 7 (Tony Natural, the Werewolf, Moses, FoF, Buffalo, Cave Man), the Nats can carry Espinosa and not lose much on offense, especially if Span keeps getting on base.

      Now, if JZ can replicate last night’s performance, and Gio can come back with command of that stuff, Mike will finally be able to play the kind of game he wanted to from the start – pitching, defense, aggressive base running. He’s got it all now, plus a really potent lineup.

      Now, fer Chrissakes, stay healthy men. If they do, then Mike’s biggest “problem” will be how to handle Harper’s return.

      Some problem.

      • Chazz - Jun 4, 2014 at 9:05 AM

        I think Mike will figure this out

        You meant Matt, right?

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 4, 2014 at 9:10 AM

        I think he meant Mike, referring to roster management (“the Nats can carry Espinosa”), and not Matt, who sets the lineup.

      • dcwx61 - Jun 4, 2014 at 9:57 AM

        she

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:37 AM

        Wait, LBB is “she”? This I did not know.

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 4, 2014 at 11:38 AM

        “You meant Matt, right?”

        Of course. That may have been the spell corrector, since I usually don’t proofread my posts.

  11. Doc - Jun 4, 2014 at 8:08 AM

    Now that comparison of Michael Taylor to Justin Maxwell certainly puts things in perspective.

    Looping swings don’t make it for very long in the Bigs.

  12. edshelton2013 - Jun 4, 2014 at 9:02 AM

    “I’ve played with some really bad outfielders in the past”. Anyone know who Span was referring to with this quote?
    It must have been with the Twins since Dunn and Willingham were long gone before he got here.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 4, 2014 at 9:06 AM

      He played with Willingham with the Twins.

      • Doc - Jun 4, 2014 at 9:14 AM

        Good point, Seams.

        Span takes a lot of pride in his position play. I think Maurer the catcher filled in as an OFer, and maybe Morneau too. Span might have been thinking about any number of guys, including Revere.

        Notice how mildly ticked he was when JDub intersected him on that fly ball?

  13. Joe Seamhead - Jun 4, 2014 at 9:14 AM

    The Willingham trade did not bring good returns with regards to HRod and Corey Brown, but it ultimately made this a much better team. Rizzo wanted a more athletic defense, and he caught hell on Nats Insider for getting rid of Dunn and Willingham. Personally, I thought it actually all worked out pretty good. There would likely have been no playoff appearance with those two, in spite of their offense.

  14. Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 4, 2014 at 9:19 AM

    and he caught hell on Nats Insider for getting rid of Dunn and Willingham.

    To be fair, if he even reads this, which I doubt, he certainly didn’t lose sleep.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 4, 2014 at 9:29 AM

      LOL!

  15. chapjim - Jun 4, 2014 at 1:08 PM

    Cute comment from the guys on MASN last night that one of Zimmerman’s problems in LF might be loneliness. No 3B coach, no umpire, no baserunners to talk to.

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