Nationals manager Matt Williams explained during pregame Friday the reasoning for placing Bryce Harper near the top of the lineup at the No. 2 spot against the Cubs and right-hander Jason Hammel.
"I think it's a question of trying to create a little bit with Bryce at the top of the lineup, especially against a righty," Williams said. "We faced three lefties the last three games. So I wanted to give him some opportunity certainly to drive runs in. The same holds true with Anthony (Rendon) in that regard.
"Hammel's got really good numbers against the Nationals and the league as a whole. We wanted to see if we could create some opportunities for the guys in the middle today. That's the reason."
Williams was asked if he considered keeping the lineup as is following three straight wins with Harper back against Colorado.
"I think every game presents its own challenges and it's new," Williams said. "Doesn't matter what's happened the last three - good, bad or indifferent. I like the fact that we can get some guys on base, on-base percentage guys two, three, four, five. Create opportunity potentially for Anthony, for (Ian Desmond), for Wilson (Ramos). Certainly (Denard Span's) been great. But our highest on-base guys are those guys. I wanted to try to create some pressure there."
Williams also was asked with the bullpen pitching so well - especially Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano - do Nats relievers deserve consideration for the All-Star game?
"Certainly the back three guys in the bullpen have the numbers to substantiate a serious look there," Williams said. "I haven't received any phone calls or talked to anybody about it. I think they have opportunity, they should anyway. We have a couple of position guys have a potential opportunity there, too. We'd like to see as many as we could."
Williams recognized how unique and humbling it is for the Nationals to be playing at home on July 4, the nation's independence day.
"We get a chance to be the game, start at a different time and that's all special," Williams said. "We got to wipe out of the fellow's eyes this morning, but other than that, it's a special day, our nation's birthday and it's happening here. It's fun to be a part of."
Williams said that he believes Ryan Zimmerman is acclimating well back to his original position at third base and that his arm strength is fine on throws to first base this week.
"I think his arm feels fine," he said. "I would imagine that throwing from the outfield and making the longer throw maybe helped as well. I think he's thrown fine.
"Weather could be a factor. It's warmer. Not quite as cool as it was early on. Probably all of that contributes to it."