Zimmerman has played three games in left, recording three putouts in as many chances. Manager Matt Williams spoke extensively about Zimmerman’s outfield play, his future defensive position and the possibility of playing third right now to give Anthony Rendon a day off.
So how does Williams feel Zimmerman has done in left?
“He’s fine,” Williams said. “I think we have to take it with a grain of salt and understand what we expect. So yeah, he’s been fine. The fly balls that he’s got, he’s seeing them good. The one ball down the line the other day off a lefty’s bat, he didn’t quite catch up to, but I think he’s fine. ...
“For me, my fair expectation is that he needs to hit in the middle of our lineup and go catch everything he can catch. So it’s not fair to put any kind of expectation on him. I think he’s a wonderful athlete and I’ve told these guys, we can put the gear on him if he wanted to, but we’re not going to do that. So it’s an opportunity for him to get back in there and get his four ABs every day and work back to where he wants to be. And at some point, he’s going to be back at third base, too.”
Giving Rendon a day off would be the first thing that gets Zimmerman a day back at third in the immediate future, and Williams would be comfortable putting Zimmerman there.
“Sure. Of course,” Williams said. “That’s his natural position, but we’re looking at all of that from day to day - matchups and potentials and all of that. We’ve also got a little bit of a bug running around the clubhouse, too, so that may make our decisions over the next couple of days. We’ll see.”
Even if Zimmerman is such a good athlete, his future position isn’t likely left field. There has been talk about him playing first base, a position at which he hasn’t appeared in 1,150 career major league games.
But Williams sees Zimmerman at his natural spot in the long run.
“I think he’s a Gold Glove third baseman. He’s proven that, but he can play anywhere on the diamond,” Williams said. “It depends on his health and how he feels and the needs of the team, and things like that. It’s pretty obvious that he’s concerned about winning, which is a fantastic trait to have. He’s willing to do anything that needs to be done to help us win games.”
Williams doesn’t believe putting Zimmerman at third for a day or two would interrupt his momentum in the outfield. He also is of the opinion that Zimmerman could mentally and physically handle third despite his arm troubles in recent seasons.
“It’s comfortable. That’s where he’s played,” Williams said. “I don’t think there would be any sort of mental adjustment there. It’s natural for him. He’s played there for a lot of years now. He’s got hardware to prove it. So he’d be fine. ...
“We have to understand where he’s come from. So, six-ish weeks of not being able to throw a baseball, we just can’t throw him at third base and say, ‘Go get ‘em, kid,’ because it’s going to be difficult for him. We have to look at - like we talked about earlier - diving in the infield and pushing up, and the stresses are not so great out there (in left). So for the interim, that’s a good spot, and he’s working back to getting back over here and playing Gold Glove-caliber third base like he always does.”
Williams also explained why right fielder Jayson Werth is getting the night off for tonight’s series opener in San Diego.
Part of it was getting Nate McLouth some work. Part of it was Werth’s health.
“But Jayson, he needs a day, though. He’s played a lot and played hard,” Williams said. “He woke up this morning a little stiff, so we thought today would be a good day for him. We’re not going to give him another off-day until we get home.”
With Zimmerman, Denard Span and Adam LaRoche all back, the Nats’ depth is improved and one would think Williams could afford to give his stars a break every now and then.
The skipper doesn’t necessarily look at it that way.
“I don’t know if you can ever afford to do it,” Williams said. “You want to win every game, but we also have to look at the health of our guys for long-term. I encourage them to be truthful with me, although I know it’s half-truths sometimes, but just be honest with themselves about how they feel because it is a long season and there’s a lot of games, and everybody wants to play every day.
“But we have to look at spots where we can potentially give them days to stem that tide a little bit. So today’s one of those days for Jayson. We’ve got to look at Anthony, too. We’ve got to look at a number of guys. We’ve got to look at Denard. Since he’s been back, he’s played just about every day. So that’s part of the job, too. So I’ll try to pick and choose where we can.”