Nationals left fielder Ryan Zimmerman caught two balls in his first game in the outfield Tuesday, a 7-0 win over the Phillies. The first game worked out the way manager Matt Williams might have drawn up. Zimmerman contributed two doubles and a RBI, raking the first hit of the game for the Nationals.
Williams believes that Zimmerman will play hard in left field, will need to learn as he goes and will not limit his effort worrying about his thumb or shoulder. Williams has not told Zimmerman to be careful with possibly reinjuring himself diving for a sinking liner or crashing into the outfield wall in pursuit of a long fly ball.
"I haven't told him anything like that," Williams said. "He has worked out a lot out there, one by necessity to begin with. The fact that he is able to do it gives us that opportunity. You can't take the game speed out of anybody. I would imagine that the demands out there would be not as great as at third, in diving on the infield and stopping a ball. It doesn't happen quite as often out there. The hope is that the fly balls just go out there and he can catch them and throw them back in."
That is exactly what happened Tuesday. But you can't expect that to happen every game. Center fielder Denard Span said Zimmerman will have to get used to the way the ball comes off the bat towards outfielders as compared to the grounders he saw at third base.
"Just getting used to the balls from left-handed hitters slicing and the right-handed hitter, just the direction of the ball, just learning how to take your routs," Span said pregame Tuesday. "Stuff like that you can kind of simulate it during batting practice. That is what he is going to have to concentrate a whole lot during batting practice and get his reps in. So once 7 o'clock comes he will be ready."
Span also has confidence that despite Zimmerman's lack of experience in the outfield, he might have a shorter learning curve than guys he has played alongside in the past. He believes Zimmerman's ability as a baseball player will be the biggest positive in his favor during the position switch.
"I have played with some bad outfielders," Span said. "That is why honestly I am not to worried because I have played with some guys that had no business being in the outfield and were out there in right field. He is a good athlete. I played with guys that were first base/DH's and they threw them out there in right field. I had to play center and right field. I don't think that will be the case here. Hopefully in another two days I maybe will have a better answer for your guys. See how he does."
The next challenge awaits Zimmerman tonight in left field.