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Zimmerman makes the transtion back to third base

Jul 1, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

AP AP

Ryan Zimmerman had taken his position at third base 1,119 previous times in the big leagues, so his trot from the Nationals dugout across the infield Monday evening should have been the epitome of routine.

This, however, wasn’t like any of the previous occasions. This was the first time Zimmerman played third base since leaving his natural position for left field upon returning from the disabled list four weeks ago, a move necessitated by his longstanding shoulder woes. And so, this was no ordinary trot out to the hot corner.

“It was different,” he said. “But I’ve played there quite a bit. I took some balls there the last week or so to get ready for it. It’s obviously different than left field, but not too bad.”

Not too bad, indeed. The Rockies hit only three balls to third base during Monday’s game — one of them a routine pop-up — but Zimmerman handled them all flawlessly and even showed off some of the skills that earned him a Gold Glove award five years ago.

He charged in and made a barehanded scoop of Brandon Barnes’ bunt in the top of the fifth, his subsequent throw strong and right on the money, just a split-second too late after the perfectly placed dribbler.

Then two innings later, Zimmerman made the kind of instinctual and gifted play that earned him his sterling defensive reputation in the first place. Lunging to his right to snag Charlie Blackmon’s low liner, he then fired all the way across the diamond while falling backward, getting the ball to Adam LaRoche before Corey Dickerson could get back to first base, completing an inning-ending double play that left the Nationals Park crowd of 33,660 roaring with approval.

“I kind of peeked a little bit once I caught it,” he said. “It’s a tough read for [Dickerson] because if it short-hops me, obviously he’s got to get to second base. But, yeah, I thought I had a good chance.”

“That’s kind of a soft liner off the end,” said manager Matt Williams, himself a former Gold Glove third baseman. “And he ranged to his right to catch it and then really didn’t have time to get up. So he spun as he was getting up and threw it over there, on the money. It was a good play.”

This was by no means confirmation of Zimmerman’s ability to play an adequate third base the rest of the season. He didn’t need to make any of the routine throws that have caused him so much trouble in the recent past. One solid game in the field doesn’t exorcise demons that have built up over the course of years.

But it was confirmation that Williams’ decision to move Zimmerman back to third base upon Bryce Harper’s return from the DL was worth the risk. The Nats will find out for sure over the coming days and weeks whether this can work long-term or not, but this game offered no reason to now abort the plan altogether.

“He’s a good third baseman,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “There’s no doubt about that. And obviously we’re in a very good situation with Anthony [Rendon] being able to play third and second at the level he does, and Zim to be able to play left and third at the level he does. I know he’s new to left field. But he did a great job for us out there, and I’m assuming that’s not going to be the last time we see him out there.”

No, as Williams said prior to Monday’s game, Zimmerman will bounce around three positions — third base, first base, left field — to some extent the rest of this season. It may not be his preferred scenario, but he once again said he (and others) are willing to do whatever is asked, whether it means playing multiple positions or taking more days off.

“Like I’ve said all along … all of the guys in here are going to do whatever it takes to win,” Zimmerman said. “Honestly, days off are nice sometimes even if you don’t want them. If we want to continue to win games and do what we think we should do, those days off now might help you later in the season when we really need them. It’s going to be a tough job for Matt, but I think it’s a good problem to have too many players and not enough spots. We’ll see. Usually things like that work themselves out, but as long as we keep winning I think everything will be fine.”

The manner in which Zimmerman has dealt with this entire situation hasn’t been lost on teammates.

“He says it all the time: The window for opportunity here to win the World Series is not going to be open forever,” Desmond said. “And his willingness, and everybody else’s willingness, to move throughout the lineup and to play different positions, that’s the kind of selflessness we need to get to the next level.”

Desmond was asked if he believes others in the Nationals’ clubhouse will be as willing as Zimmerman to shed their egos for the greater good.

His reponse: “Well, when the cornerstone of your organization accepts it and does it, it makes it hard for anybody else not to.”

  1. natsfan1a - Jul 1, 2014 at 10:11 AM

    I just love Zimm’s attitude. Always have.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Jul 1, 2014 at 10:15 AM

      I really want him to be the first guy who goes to HOF for nationals. It is gonna be nearly impossible but would love for that to happen.

    • snerdblurter - Jul 1, 2014 at 10:23 AM

      Havent seen where he pulled it from, but Carp had a great Zimm quote saying something to the effect of “I’m just employee #11. I’m here to do whatever they tell me.”

      Now, about that employee #34… we might have to talk to HR about him…

      • laddieblahblah - Jul 1, 2014 at 11:26 AM

        “Now, about that employee #34… we might have to talk to HR about him…”

        Billy Martin had problems with Reggie Jackson, Casey had problems with Mantle, etc., etc., etc. Every manager should have problems like that.

        Matt can handle it.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jul 1, 2014 at 4:14 PM

        Or, as George said about The Jax: “There isn’t enough mustard in the world to cover that hot dog.”

  2. Section 222 - Jul 1, 2014 at 10:26 AM

    Absolutely great night at the park last night, and Zim was the highlight. Three hits and that web gem. Can’t ask for anything more than that.

    I saw that someone in an earlier thread complained about his throw on the double play. Come on! The throw wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t Rendon-like, or even Chad Tracy-like. But no one here or in the ball park expected it to be pretty. It got the job done, and most important, he didn’t hesitate to do it. Absolutely fantastic play and complaining about the throw is like complaining about a Soriano save because he left a ball up in the zone.

    After the game, I listened briefly to Phil Wood before turning him off in disgust. An obviously young fan called in to comment that Rendon seemed to be a little unsure at second base, showing the signs of not having played there for awhile. It was an obviously correct and astute point. Rendon was totally out of position on the play where Harper played a carom off the wall and fired to second to try to get the hitter, only to find out that Rendon was in short left field backing up Desi, or something. Were were joking in my section that Rendon was so used to running out to left field to try to corral Zim’s “throws” that he forgot it was Harper throwing and that he was playing 2B. Phil, as he often does, said the caller was wrong, and talked about the play where Harper tried to catch the runner off first, which Rendon had nothing to do with. Bush league Phil, bush league.

    On the botched run down touched off by Harper’s throw behind the runner, the real culprit was ALR. A good throw to Rendon and Rendon could have easily caught the runner heading back toward first before the runner at third could score. But ALR’s throw was off the Mark, and Rendon had to scramble to catch it, losing the advantage he had.

    I have a feeling last night’s game could be a template– this lineup can be contained for awhile, but sooner or later it will explode. Five run innings win ballgames. Heck, five run games win ballgames.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jul 1, 2014 at 10:51 AM

      Yes, five-run innings will do that. Over the years, Thomas Boswell has repeatedly cited a stat to the effect that in a significant percentage of MLB games (somewhere north of 50% if I recall correctly) the winning team scores more runs in a single inning than the losing team scores in the entire game. I don’t have the data to back this up, but my impression over the past season and a half has been that the Nats have been on the losing end of that equation more often than not. Let’s hope they can turn that around in the second half of 2014.

      • Candide - Jul 1, 2014 at 11:36 AM

        …the winning team scores more runs in a single inning than the losing team scores in the entire game.

        More accurately, the winning team scores, in one inning, at least as many runs (or more) than the losing team over the entire game. And the frequency is about 50%.

        First time I read that, I thought it was crazy, but just look at the box scores for any given day, and it will hold up. It doesn’t mean necessarily that the winning team had an offensive explosion, because EVERY game where the losing team scores 0 or 1 run, the winning team scored at least as many runs in just one inning.

  3. Section 222 - Jul 1, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    Oh, and yes, I’m taking a victory lap this morning since MW chose the NatsJack option. Icing on the cake that Zim had a big night, and played well in the field. Next question?

  4. natsbro - Jul 1, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    If anyone is interested a friend of mine did an article about Gio in Washington Life:

    http://issuu.com/washingtonlife/docs/wl0714_fullissue/36

  5. ArVAFan - Jul 1, 2014 at 10:55 AM

    Completely off topic:

    Memo to Mark Lerner: The Wrigley scoreboard clock is almost as old as your father, but it still works. Perhaps you can call them and ask for their clock repair guy?

    I still find the hand-less clock annoying.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jul 1, 2014 at 11:13 AM

      ?

    • bowdenball - Jul 1, 2014 at 11:16 AM

      Hear hear. I still find myself checking the no longer functioning clock every inning or so. Seems like it shouldn’t be all that hard to get it fixed.

      • natsbro - Jul 1, 2014 at 11:17 AM

        Yeah I didn’t even know that was going on..pretty dumb we should fix that.

      • natsfan1a - Jul 1, 2014 at 11:31 AM

        Yeah, it’s not even right twice a day. We’ll have to retrain ourselves to look at the digital clock on the scoreboard.

  6. jd - Jul 1, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    I have a thought about Bryce’s inappropriate comments yesterday. I think Bryce is looking back at 2012 (98 wins and all) and thinking in his mind that the outfield alignment then contributed to a big season and he’s looking to get back to that somehow. Clearly, he needs to start introducing some filters to what he writes or says because if nothing else he is certainly hurting a team mate who has done nothing to deserve this.

    From a lineup standpoint there is no debate, removing Espinosa from it alone is addition by subtraction. As a matter of fact if Rendon is ticketed for 3rd base Rizzo would be well advised to acquire a new 2nd baseman. If Zim can play even an average 3rd base then the debate is over for this year, yes Werth and Desi and Span and Zim will need days off but the regular lineup is what you saw last night (not necessarily in the same order).

    • masterfishkeeper - Jul 1, 2014 at 11:47 AM

      Actually, on lineups you might want to read Boswell’s chat today. I was thinking the same as you, but Boswell makes some good points.

      http://live.washingtonpost.com/ask-boswell-1400630-new.html

      He makes a pretty good case that against lefthanders the lineup should include Espinosa over Span, because Espinosa is a better hitter than Span against lefthanders. I’d like to see that at least once this series, and I’d also like to see Zimmerman give Laroche a rest.

      • laddieblahblah - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:31 PM

        All Harper has to do is wait until next year. He will move over to CF, allowing Zim to return to LF and Rendon to 3rd base. He’s 21, so he doesn’t understand why he has to wait, but he almost certainly will have to. Having Zim in LF will also allow the Nats to exercise their option and keep ALR at 1b, next year.

        A bigger issue is who will play 2nd base in 2015. If the Nats keep Espinosa, he will be a bench guy who may get in against lefties, on occasion, to give the starter a rest. I have no clue what Rizzo will do, but he will do something. His rotation is set, his bull pen is 2nd to none, he has a surplus of arms in the minors, and he will have every other position covered, except 2nd base.

      • therealjohnc - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:51 PM

        There are scenarios where Harper does not move over to CF. If they pick up Span’s option, that’s not going to happen. That is looking less likely, but is still possible if Span has a strong second half.

        If Span (and Hairston) are gone after this year, and if RZim stays in the infield (at 3b or 1b), the result would be two starting OF spots (Harper, Werth) and one OF reserve spot (McLouth, aka a poor man’s Denard Span) spoken for next year and a competition going into ST next year for the two open OF spots. If Souza (more likely), Destin Hood, Tyler Moore or Zach Walters wins a starting spot, Harper plays CF. If Michael Taylor or Brian Goodwin, both of whom can play CF, win the spot, Harper would likely play LF or flip flop with Werth and play RF.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:01 PM

      Stop making up rationalizations for Harper’s motor-mouthing. He’s now in his third ML season — or second, if you count all his DL time — made a gazillion $$, got himself hitched . . .. It’s time he started growing up rather than focusing on being the biggest pinwheel in the fireworks box. He needs to learn not to hip-check his teammates, manager and organization under the bus as he outruns his helmet. Notwithstanding all of the hype his biggest offensive contribution was a 15-hopper over the pitcher’s mound. There is no BWAA award for Most Narcissistic Player.

      I really hope he hits 180 HR over the next four-and-a half years. But, please, Harper, do something that makes you likeable not merely watchable.

      • jd - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:03 PM

        Theo,

        I,m sure when you were 21 you did and said all the right things all the time. The rest of us,,,not so much.

      • natsbro - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:08 PM

        I don’t like the he’s only 21/inexperienced/doesn’t know how to talk to the media thing. He knows exactly what he was doing/saying.

      • texnat1 - Jul 1, 2014 at 1:36 PM

        Let’s also not forget that MW has been unnecessarily harsh on Harper since day one. He needlessly put him down in the lineup to start the season, which raised eyebrows across baseball. And then he publicly benched him and called him out, but has not been the least bit consistent in applying the same standard to other players.

        Let’s be honest, you can’t have the inmates running they asylum, but if MW has lost Harper, then it is MW that needs to pack his bags.

    • laddieblahblah - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:18 PM

      “As a matter of fact if Rendon is ticketed for 3rd base Rizzo would be well advised to acquire a new 2nd baseman.”

      I would be very surprised if Rizzo isn’t working that problem right now. Espinosa really tried this year, to his credit, but he just isn’t that good.

  7. David Proctor - Jul 1, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    The “controversy” over the Span/Harper high 5 is hilarious and ridiculous. It was just an awkward situation because Werth put his glove up first. Harper then reached over Span (who is the shortest of the three) and tapped gloves with Werth. This caused Span to duck under their arms. As Harper was on his way back down from tapping gloves with Span, he tapped Span’s. It was just difficult to see.

    Harper wants to play center and wants Span’s spot, but he’s never given any indication that he personally dislikes Span. And even if he did, he wouldn’t snub him in that way.

    • Section 222 - Jul 1, 2014 at 11:41 AM

      Agree. The supposed snub is much ado about nothing. Not so the pre-game comments. Harper should have learned the right sound bite from Zim –“I’ll play anywhere they want me to to help the team.”

      • David Proctor - Jul 1, 2014 at 11:53 AM

        Agreed. And I don’t really care if he actually has that attitude or not. I don’t think Zim is all that pleased about going back to 3B. I don’t blame Harper if he wants to play center. But keep it to yourself and say all the right things to the media. The Nationals should offer a Cliche 101 class. It can be taught by Zim.

      • snerdblurter - Jul 1, 2014 at 11:56 AM

        Agreed. Hopefully Bryce will talk to Span behind closed doors to make sure those comments werent meant to slight him. And maybe later this week in one of Bryce’s post-game interviews after a W, Bryce could cite a big Span play as contributing to the victory. If he does that, lesson learned, and everything is copasetic.

      • 6ID20 - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:00 PM

        Which cliche did Zim utter that makes you think he doesn’t want to play third?

      • David Proctor - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:06 PM

        Well Zimmerman repeatedly saying playing LF was a burden off his shoulders and that Rendon was a better 3B than him.

  8. rayvil01 - Jul 1, 2014 at 11:57 AM

    Surprised and a bit relieved that BW’s “We are the best team in baseball” post game comment didn’t create s stir.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:04 PM

      BH’s? Actually, when Harper said that, I thought, “Good for him.” That’s what a player should say, what a player (on a team like this) should believe. Just channel Harmon Killebrew the rest of the time.

      • rayvil01 - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:06 PM

        Yes. BH…sorry.

  9. mrnat7 - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:08 PM

    I don’t understand why MW didn’t make a defensive adjustment after Zim’s last at bat and put Espi in at 2b and move Rendon to 3b. I know Zim made a good play at 3b, but his throw bounced to 1b. Also, watching him take grounders from ALR between innings, he was bouncing alot of his throws to 1b.

    • natsbro - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:12 PM

      A lot of people are criticizing that throw..it was a great diving stop and I think he was just trying to get it around 1st as fast as he could because he knew it was gonna be a close play. I wasn’t concerned about it at all..seems some people are.

      • natsbro - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:14 PM

        Didn’t catch your in between innings part..yeah I guess that isn’t ideal..

    • adcwonk - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:24 PM

      Probably because it was 6-2 (then 7-3). If it had been 4-3, that’s a different situation.

    • BurnedOnce - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:50 PM

      Maybe RZim and ALR are practicing the bounce.

  10. Section 222 - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:17 PM

    Don’t act surprised or dismayed that Zim’s throws aren’t great. Unlike at the beginning of this year, and midway through last year, they aren’t expected to be. Each game we escape without a damaging error is a good day because it means that keeping Danny and his Ks on the bench was cost free. At this point, I don’t much care how it looks.

  11. David Proctor - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    It’s difficult to take Zimmerman out for defense because you need his bat in there if the game goes into extra innings. I suppose you could take Span out and move Zim to LF, if you want to improve the infield defense and keep Zim in the game.

    • Section 222 - Jul 1, 2014 at 2:42 PM

      This is the age old dilemma with late inning substitutions. We had it big time with Dunn and Willingham. I wouldn’t subsitute when we’re up by 1 or 2 runs. 3 or more seems worth taking the chance. But no way he takes out Span in that situation though. He’s saved way too many games already. Zim’s arm would be a hug liability in LF playing a no doubles defense. Worse than at 3B in my view.

  12. David Proctor - Jul 1, 2014 at 1:12 PM

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/sorry-bryce-matt-williams-is-right/

    This is a good article that I recommend you all read.

  13. letswin3 - Jul 1, 2014 at 1:20 PM

    I don’t want to jump to conclusions, and I will be watching and listening carefully over the next few days and weeks to get a clear picture, but I had a moment yesterday when I thought that maybe Bryce has decided that MW needs to be challenged. First there were his remarks about who should play which positions, and that the strongest lineup would include Espinosa, but then he also said something like nobody let him know in advance that he would be hitting 6th. and that he only learned that by reading the lineup …… my initial impressions were that he didn’t like MW’s position decisions, his place in the batting order (another MW decision) or the fact that he hadn’t been informed in advance of his #6 spot when hitting … all three references directly disrespectful (possibly) to Williams. I have no question whatever about Bryce’s mistake in commenting with anything other than “I’m ecstatic to be back, and I’ll play and hit anywhere that will help the team”, but I’m concerned that he might also be out to make a statement about Williams ….. I sure hope my concern is misplaced, because this is a very good team that needs no distractions, now that they are reassembled and concentrating on winning ballgames.

  14. coop202 - Jul 1, 2014 at 1:41 PM

    I dislike boz…. Is it bad that a player (let alone someone under the spotlight like Bryce) says this to the media? Yes. Am I upset that a player wants to bat in the heart of the lineup and play the most important outfield position? Of course not. Harper (the writer) had a great blog post today on this

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