Ryan Zimmerman is back, activated from the disabled list after being out since April 13 with a broken right thumb. Outfielder Tyler Moore was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse to make room for Zimmerman on the 25-man roster.
Zimmerman will bat fifth tonight against the Phillies, and will play left field for the first time in his major league career. He played three games in left field for the high Single-A Potomac Nationals over the weekend on a minor league rehabilitation assignment.
“I felt pretty comfortable,” Zimmerman said. “Time will tell how well I actually do in the games up here. But I feel like I can do well enough to help us win and not really stick out.”
He started working in the outfield during his recovery to get baseball related exercise and take pressure off of his thumb. It was that time that began the idea of getting him in the lineup in left field with Anthony Rendon doing well at third base in his absence.
“At some point, during the six or seven weeks it’s been since I broke my thumb,” Zimmerman said the Nats decided to try him in the outfield. “At first, it’s like anything - you are a little hesitant, you don’t want to learn a new position. Like I said, any other guy in this room would do whatever it takes to win.
“I think all of us realize you don’t have unlimited amount of years to have a team like we have right now. The goal is to win and win as many games as we can and get to the playoffs and try and do something special. This gives us the best chance to do that.”
Nationals manager Matt Williams said Zimmerman was good with the idea of playing games in left field.
“He is willing to do anything whatever needs to be done to help us win,” Williams said. “The guy’s got a Gold Glove at third base. He is willing to do whatever it takes for us to get done what we need to get done. We are not expecting anything out of him in left field other than if it gets hit out there (to) catch it and throw it back in.
“Whatever it takes, that’s his philosophy on it. We are glad to have him back in the lineup, though. We need him to lengthen our lineup and get those four ABs from him every day and help us win. I know he is excited to get back.”
Zimmerman said the team has not discussed with him what will happen when Bryce Harper returns. He did say he is still taking ground balls at third base.
“Any time you start doing something new in the middle of the year it is tough,” Zimmerman said. “As an outfielder, your job is to catch the ball. I think I know how to catch the ball. Obviously, I haven’t had a chance to try and catch every single type of ball in the game.
“I have done a lot of drills, I have done a lot of work to the point of where I feel comfortable out there. There is a difference between going out there and being adequate and like saying I am going to lead the league in assists or win a Gold Glove or anything like that. I feel like I am athletic enough to at least blend and not cause any problems.”
Playing in left field for those three minor league games, did Zimmerman find it a refreshing look at the game after all those seasons on the infield dirt?
“Playing baseball is always refreshing,” Zimmerman said. “The last couple of years at third base have been tough for me, mentally. Physically, I had to really had to grind it out. It’s been tough. But to learn something new, to go out and have fun and play ball again is refreshing, I guess, if you want to say it that way. Most importantly, honestly it gives us the best chance to win. That’s the point.”
He also compared the amount of time he has in left field to go after a ball versus a hot shot liner to him in a game at third base.
“You definitely have more time,” Zimmerman said. “That is one of the things I have gotten used to out there. With that time, you can manipulate your feet, get your body where you want to be before the ball gets to you. Having more time helps.
“Infield is very had and very skilled position. People don’t realize that the ball is hit, you get it, you field it, you gather yourself, you pick up your target, you throw it and you have to do that in less than four seconds usually. Obviously, you have a lot more than four seconds out there to do that. I think that will help a little bit.”
Williams said playing left field will definitely be a new experience for Zimmerman, but the Nats are willing to take a couple of possible misplays because his bat is so important to the lineup.
“There’s some things out there that are just different,” Williams said. “You play third base and its all infield and it all happens very quickly. There are balls down in the corners and balls that ricochet off of the fence that will be a challenge.
“We are willing to accept all that with him going out there and the little experience that he does have. What’s most important to us is that he is back and he feels good and he is able to get in the lineup and swing and help us.”
Williams said Zimmerman could still play some games at third base or first base in the next month or so.
“We will make some adjustments from a day-to-day basis whether we need to move him back to the infield for a couple of innings or he gets a start at third or a start at first. It’s a day-by-day thing,” Williams said.
Is the plan to play Zimmerman predominantly in left field?
“Without saying definitively, the majority of the time, probably,” Williams confirmed. “Anthony is doing a good job at third. We have to be mindful of his thumb, and the amount of throws he throws every day because he is still in the healing process, and his shoulder and so we have to monitor that. He is a great athlete, he will be able to handle it, and do fine. That is the plan, it can change from day to day though.”