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Several starters will bounce around when Harper returns

Jun 18, 2014, 6:49 PM EDT

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Matt Williams shed some more light on his plan once Bryce Harper returns from the disabled list in a few weeks, a plan that could see several regular members of the lineup bounce around from position to position on a daily basis to maximize everyone’s playing time.

Harper’s return from surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament, expected to occur in early July, will leave the Nationals with a logjam unless they elect to move Ryan Zimmerman back to third base (and, by extension, Danny Espinosa to the bench) on a permanent basis.

Williams suggested Wednesday that the answer to this dilemma will be to have several regulars move among multiple positions. Zimmerman can play left field, third base and first base. Harper can play all three outfield positions. Anthony Rendon can play second and third bases. Espinosa can play second base and shortstop.

“When Bryce comes back and he’s ready to play, then Zim will play some third,” Williams said. “He’ll probably play some left. He’ll probably play some first. Anthony will play third and second. And we’ll kind of work our way through it, depending on who’s pitching and who needs a day (off). I would assume that Bryce will not only play left field, he may find himself in right and he may find himself in center sometimes.”

That scenario would allow Williams to give other members of the lineup who have played nearly every day this season more opportunities to take a day or two off.

“That’s what you want,” Williams said. “So I can give Denard a day, or Jayson a day. Then you can certainly do those types of things. It’s been difficult so far this season, because we’ve had so many guys injured. But it is what it is, and sometimes you have to deal with it. But it could potentially allow us to give some guys some rest, too.”

The challenge for Williams: Striking a balance between letting his star players get comfortable in one spot on the field and moving them around to other positions when the need arises.

“The good thing about our club is, they have experience,” the manager said. “Bryce has experience playing center field and he has experience playing right field. It’s not something that’s foreign to him, because he’s done it. Anthony can play third and second. Zim can play left and first. We’ve seen that, and he certainly has the hardware to prove he can play third. So it’s not like it’s something foreign.”

Though Harper’s return remains several weeks away, he has been increasing his on-field work in recent days. He worked in the outfield with coach Tony Tarasco on Wednesday afternoon and once again took swings in the underground cage. He hopes to start taking full batting practice on the field in the next few days.

  1. Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 18, 2014 at 6:50 PM

    I know we’ve discussed this to death, but I really have a bad feeling about this.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 18, 2014 at 6:57 PM

      Why? The bench strengthens upon Bryce’s return. Finally you can give Desi and Werth a rest.

      There’s 9 guys for 8 spots and not all of them are interchangeable. There will have to be a “A” plan which I still think is RZim LF, Harp CF, and Werth RF.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 18, 2014 at 8:02 PM

        I think it will hurt the defense, but there are no perfect solutions. This would give most of them about 8 days off over the course of the rest of the schedule, if it were spread out evenly, which of course it won’t be.

        Maybe it’ll be ok, and I’m just being pessimistic, but I really hate moving multiple players around the field.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 18, 2014 at 8:04 PM

        I wanted to hear your thoughts and I agree with you. I think the musical chairs hurts continuity and defense if you do it too often, but I don’t expect that.

        Harp will be back in 2 weeks so we are going to know rather quickly.

    • sjm308 - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:16 PM

      Not me!! – this is just what I was talking about a couple of weeks ago!!

      • Section 222 - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:48 PM

        This is exactly Option 4, the 308 plan. To review:

        Option 1 (Ghost) — Span sits, Harper plays CF
        Option 2 (NatsJack/222) — Espi sits, Zim plays 3B
        Option 3 (NatsLady) — Zim never plays 3B, musical outfielders btw Zim, Harper, Span and Werth
        Option 4 (308) — Musical chairs involving Zim, Harper, Span, Werth, Rendon, Desi, Espi, and ALR

        If this actually happens you can take a serious victory lap!

      • NatsLady - Jun 19, 2014 at 7:34 AM

        Yeah, I should have gone with Option 4, I probably wrote too hastily, especially as Zim has already played a game at first base. I think Zim is in serious pain (physically and probably mentally) at third.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:21 AM

        You’re missing Option 5: Everybody stays where they are, Harper replaces McClouth, McClouth replaces Dobbs, Dobbs replaces Frandsen at LeHigh.

      • 6ID20 - Jun 19, 2014 at 11:42 AM

        Nothing in what Williams said implies “musical chairs” or any kind of positional rotation. All he is saying is that every one of the starters will get some days off now and then, and when they do it will be Espinosa who gets the added playing time and not Frandsen, Hairston, Dobbs and McLouth.

  2. unkyd59 - Jun 18, 2014 at 7:49 PM

    I think if the guys buy into this, it’ll be fine, and everybody met be a little sharper, a little more on their toes. And any subsequent injuries will be more easily dealt with…. I’m down widdit…

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 18, 2014 at 8:55 PM

      I think Ryan’s arm in LF has been exposed in the 4th inning tonight. I’m telling you, Zimm in LF is good enough to lose with. I’m with Sofa, I think that this is not going to have a happy ending. I hope that I am wrong again.

      • sjm308 - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:18 PM

        Seam – what other option do you have? If you put Ryan at 3rd you lose Espinosa’s glove and weaken both 3rd and 2nd defensively. If you play Ryan in LF, you lose Span’s defense in CF. Its a tough tough decision but I think rotating all 8 guys is the way to go.

  3. sjm308 - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:15 PM

    I am going to break my arm patting myself on the back but this is just what I brought up quite some time ago.

    He might not go with a regular rotation of days off but it sounds very similar to what I was talking about.

    I think after a month of this type of rotation, you will get a good feel for who you can count on and who you can’t. You will also have a team that is better rested then they have been in the past. Harper will be happy to play anywhere Matt puts him and I am excited to see if this actually plays out.

    I have to admit, and I think it was either Dueces or Seamhead who was correct that I was not honestly thinking it would happen but just an idea from an old fan.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:39 PM

      Coach, Ryan has done an impressive job tracking the ball and catching it, but he doesn’t have an outfielder’s arm. It looks to be as bad as Lombo, Hairston, Kobernus, etc. Of course he brings a lot to the plate. I’m glad that I am not the one to make the call.

  4. sunshinebobby - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:33 PM

    Don’t worry about the logjam, people. Somebody else will get hurt and we’ll need every warm body we’ve got.

  5. chazzmichaelmichaelzz - Jun 19, 2014 at 1:38 AM

    Similar problem as the Dodgers, 4 outfielders for 3 positions with Carl Crawford being the odd man out but still getting in 44/74 games. I have no idea who the odd man out is, but based on stats, wouldn’t it have to be Span? Harper has similar intangibles as Span (created havoc on base paths and athletic outfield), but not nearly as refined.

    Any chance Rizzo can package Span or Espi with minor league starting P for Altuve? Probably not a deal a rebuilding Astros would take, but would solve the current line-up predicament.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:25 AM

      See the discussion in the earlier thread about that. You are correct in that the Astros wouldn’t do that.

  6. coollikelivo - Jun 19, 2014 at 7:16 AM

    Sorry to even suggest this because I love ALR, but the logical option is to trade him for value to a contending American League team and start the permanent 1B assignment for Ryan. He clearly can’t throw even well enough for left field. Might backfire, but it’s a clean, forward-looking option that minimizes disruption….

  7. edshelton2013 - Jun 19, 2014 at 7:31 AM

    I’m with coollivo: let’s be honest. RZimm is targeted for 1B next year when ALR walks. Why not speed up the inevitable and trade him before the deadline to get something in return?

    • lplipty - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:25 AM

      Who’s to say LaRoche doesn’t resign for another year?

  8. Another_Sam - Jun 19, 2014 at 7:37 AM

    Debbie Downer – me – has been raising the elephant in the room for two years now: RZ can’t throw. I agree with those who don’t like turning these guys into utility fielders with no position. I say that the only answer is to return RZ to third and keep the defensive replacements on high alert.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:31 AM

      Ryan’s throws haven’t been good, and they might not get much better, but if he catches the ball in the air and doesn’t get someone hurt while he’s learning the position, he’ll be OK. If he could DH, he’d be fine, but that’s not going to happen, so he plays left. Next year is next year, they have all winter to deal with it.

  9. nats1924 - Jun 19, 2014 at 8:45 AM

    Im sorry, Ive grown to love LaRoche over the years. But I say we deal him to the Rangers.

    His stock is high, and he will not be around next season. Dealing him would solve our issues and will add some farm depth.

    Instead, we lose him via free agency and get little in return.

    go Nats

  10. Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:28 AM

    They don’t trade anybody behind this “problem” of having 8 good players for 7 positions.

    For one thing, as has been pointed out, including by Sunshine, above, they’re going to need all 8, and then some, because people get hurt.

    • lplipty - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:31 AM

      …not to mention, inter league games we will NEED all EIGHT

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:35 AM

        There’s that, but that’s only five games. Two at Baltimore next month, and three at Seattle at the very end of August.

      • chazzmichaelmichaelzz - Jun 19, 2014 at 12:45 PM

        There’s that, but that’s only five games. Two at Baltimore next month, and three at Seattle at the very end of August.

        (You forgot the 2-4 games in the WS)

  11. mauimo22 - Jun 23, 2014 at 4:21 PM

    My thoughts, in case anyone cares:
    * I’m concerned that Ryan’s issue at 3rd base may be as much mental as physical.
    * Ease Bryce back into things, play him in only 2 positions (LF and CF)
    * I really hate to see players (except for Utility studs like Frandsen) play more than 2 positions.
    * Rendon should play as much as possible
    * Get rid of Dobbs ASAP
    * What’s the deal with not calling up Sousa?!!! He’s tearing up AAA.

    So Zimmerman in LF and 1B as backup
    Bryce in LF and CF as backup
    Rendon at 3B
    Give Werth, Spann and LaRoche more days off

    Gotta develop this chemistry in the lineup! It’s working well so far with the exception of Desi and Espi at the moment.

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