Jun 30, 2014, 5:48 PM EDT
Finally having Bryce Harper back in the mix on Monday, Matt Williams’ lineup card looked much like it did on Opening Day, the last time he had a roster at full health to choose from.
Harper is back in left field with Ryan Zimmerman at third base, Anthony Rendon is back at second. Denard Span remains in center while Danny Espinosa takes a seat on the bench as the odd-man out.
Though fans and those who cover the team have been debating how things should sort out upon Harper’s return, Williams is consistent in his approach. He says the lineup will be day-to-day and moving forward it will depend on a variety of factors.
Williams would like to give several players days off soon, most notably Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond. He will also look at matchups based on opposing pitchers and, as always, injuries could play a role.
Just because everyone is back right now, doesn’t mean it will be like that for the final 81 games of the regular season.
“It’s today’s lineup. It may change tomorrow, we don’t know, depending on what happens tonight. I’m going to knock on wood again and say we hope that everybody that’s back now is back for the rest of the year. But if you look at what has happened this season, we can’t count on that necessarily. That can change things,” he said.
Putting Harper in left field is something Williams will not commit to permanently. The 21-year-old played all three outfield positions during his recent minor league rehab stint and could shift around in the coming weeks. Williams mentioned center field as a possibility, a position Harper has made it known he prefers.
Harper, in fact, reiterated that point on Monday. He said he found out Williams’ lineup on Twitter and respects his skipper’s decision to put him back in left. That said, he thinks the Nats’ best lineup is a little different than the one constructed on Monday.
“I’m in the lineup, that’s all that matters. If I had the lineup it would maybe not be the same. But he’s got the lineup card, he’s got the pen and he knows what he’s doing. There’s nothing I can do about it,” he said.
Harper explained that point further.
“I think [Zimmerman] is great and he should be playing left. Rendon’s a great third baseman and he should be playing third. And we got one of the best second basemen in the league in Danny Espinosa. Of course you want the best hitting lineup in there, and I think Rendon playing third and Zim playing left is something that is good for this team and I think that should be what’s happening.”
Williams had the message relayed to him and was measured in his response.
“We’re happy to have him back,” he said. “I don’t have any comment other than that. We’re glad to have him in our lineup and hopefully I can write his name in there every single day for the rest of the year. That would be very important to our club.”
The domino effect of Harper’s preferred lineup would seem to exclude Span. Harper would be in center with Espinosa back in the lineup, and Span would sit.
Span knows he will likely get a day off here and there as Williams plays to matchups and said he is confident in his manager’s ability to handle the situation.
“He’s the manager, so he’s going to handle it the best way he can. That’s the bottom line. He’s the boss, so however he decides to handle it, knowing him and knowing that he’s an ex-player, I’m pretty sure he’s going to handle it as if he were the player. He’s not that far removed from the game, so I trust that he’s going to do what he thinks is best.”
Regardless of where he plays, Harper is happy to be back on the field after missing over two months. The two-time All-Star will wear a protective mitt over his surgically repaired left thumb when running the bases, but does not plan to alter his approach.
“I’m just going to play. If I hurt it, I hurt it. If I blow it out, I blow it out,” he said. “I’m going to slide headfirst, I’m going to slide feet first when I need to, but sliding headfirst is what I’m comfortable doing and I’m going to keep doing it.”
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