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Williams has plan ready for Harper’s return

Jun 28, 2014, 12:44 PM EDT

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CHICAGO — Matt Williams today acknowledged, for the first time, that he knows what he’s going to do with the Nationals’ starting lineup once Bryce Harper returns. He’s just not ready to tell everyone what exactly that plan is.

“Yeah, I’m not going to share it just yet,” the rookie manager said prior to Saturday’s doubleheader at Wrigley Field. “But yeah, I do. I have a plan.”

Harper played nine innings in center field Friday night for Class AA Harrisburg, the first time he has played a full game during his rehab assignment. He will either serve as the Senators’ DH tonight in Akron or take the game off, then return to play nine innings in left field Sunday. Assuming all goes well, he’s on track to come off the disabled list and rejoin the Nationals’ lineup Monday for their series opener at home against the Rockies.

“I feel good about [his chances of playing Monday],” Williams said. “We’ll have to see how he comes out of it, though. I think he’s progressing really well. I would say I feel good at some point this coming week. Monday is a possibility.”

Once Harper does return, Williams faces a decision that has been looming for weeks. With his entire lineup healthy for the first time since Opening Day, one of two things must happen: Ryan Zimmerman either must play third base for the first time since mid-April, or somebody else must be benched.

Williams had been suggesting he’ll mix and match lineups, moving Zimmerman (and others) from position to position on a daily basis, but today he suggested the answer may not be as complicated.

Asked if several veteran everyday players are going to have to not have egos throughout this process, Williams responded: “Without getting into too much detail, I would say not as much as you might think. The plan going forward is to win games and to put guys in position to do that. Without giving up all the secret stuff, it wouldn’t be as much as you might think.”

Interpret that as you wish, but the suggestion appears to be that Zimmerman will be moving back to third base, with Anthony Rendon moving back to second base and Danny Espinosa going back to the bench. That would be the same alignment the Nationals used on Opening Day, the alignment they prepared this team to utilize all along.

Whether that arrangement can work long-term remains to be seen. If Zimmerman (whose chronic shoulder problems severely hinder his ability to throw) cannot play third base at an acceptable level, the Nationals would need to adjust.

The debate ultimately comes down to this: Does Zimmerman’s defense at third base hurt the Nationals more than Espinosa’s offense? Espinosa enters today’s doubleheader hitting .219 with a .286 on-base percentage, .637 OPS and 91 strikeouts in 266 plate appearances.

  1. Joe Seamhead - Jun 28, 2014 at 1:43 PM

    No, I also doubt if it’s that complicated. Just go back to the projected lineup/ defensive alignment from opening day.

  2. sjm308 - Jun 28, 2014 at 2:23 PM

    Yeah, Matt and I had a long talk, going over the 308 plan and I actually had to talk him out of it.
    Of course, if you believe that then we are all in big trouble.

    I just want what is best for this team so I can be in a seat for 3 playoff series, well two playoff and a WORLD series

    Go Nats!

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 28, 2014 at 3:14 PM

      sjm, if Zimm can get back with the side arm throws he was making before he got hurt we’ll be fine.

      • zmunchkin - Jun 29, 2014 at 9:32 AM

        I agree that his sidearm throws were much better. And before he got hurt, he was working on using that arm slot more often.

        And his throws were bad due to inflammation in his shoulder. If he is, for example, only playing 3B every other day, then perhaps the inflammation won’t be as bad, thus fewer bad throws. I suspect that is one thing the Nats want to find out.

  3. Sonny G 10 - Jun 28, 2014 at 5:16 PM

    I bet if Zim does go to third base and stays there, other teams are going to test his ability by laying down bunts to see if he can throw them out. Ryan’s throwing just does not look good at all.

    • zmunchkin - Jun 29, 2014 at 9:30 AM

      Actually Ryan’s throws on bunts were, I think, pretty good. That is his rushing in bare-handed side-armed throw which was not as much of a problem as the long overhand throws.

      I hope they do test him by bunting!

  4. lphboston - Jun 28, 2014 at 6:59 PM

    The way this team scores runs, we can’t afford to carry Espinosa. Have to hope that Harper gets the offense going and it makes up for whatever problems Zimmerman has defensively. If Zimmerman still has the yips at third, another adjustment will have to be made. But right now there no alternative. Have to get all available bats in the lineup.

  5. janebeard - Jun 28, 2014 at 6:59 PM

    I want whatever is best for the team, and I believe they know what that is. Ryan has been great in Left. Is it the speed of the throws that makes third so much harder than outfield?

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