Zimmerman's return impacts Nats lineup in more ways than one

Sure, it's nice having a guy who was hitting .364/.405/.636 through the season's first 10 games back in the lineup after more than seven weeks on the disabled list.

Ryan Zimmerman returned last night, slugged two doubles, hit another ball to the warning track in right-center and didn't look like he'd missed a beat after fracturing his right thumb less than two weeks into the season, knocking him from the Nationals lineup for an extended period.

But beyond what Zimmerman himself brings to the Nats lineup - another middle-of-the-order slugger capable of catching fire offensively (he did have 11 homers last September alone, after all) and carrying a team - let's look at what his return does to the rest of the batting order.

The way manager Matt Williams structured the lineup last night, Zimmerman hit fifth behind Adam LaRoche, putting a power-hitting right-hander behind a power-hitting left-hander, offering LaRoche some protection. When the Phillies decided to intentionally walk LaRoche with Denard Span on second base and first base open in the fifth inning last night, Zimmerman was there to make them pay, ripping an RBI double to the track in right.

You can't necessarily blame the Phillies for intentionally walking LaRoche to get to Zimmerman in that spot. It gave them a more favorable righty-righty matchup instead of having starter David Buchanan face the left-handed-hitting LaRoche, plus LaRoche has been crushing the ball of late. But Zimmerman has the ability to crush the ball, as well, and he did.

Zimmerman's return also bumped quality hitters like Wilson Ramos and Ian Desmond down in the order, giving the Nats added depth from 1-8 in the lineup.

Ramos has been heating up lately and ripping line drives around the ballpark. Desmond leads the Nats in home runs. Those two were hitting sixth and seventh, respectively, last night.

"You got a guy like Ian hitting seventh with 11 home runs," Zimmerman said, when asked about the lineup's depth. "We have a talented team, we just have to get healthy. Every team goes through injuries in the year, so it's not an excuse. I don't think we'd ever use it as that. But it's always more fun when you have the guys in your lineup that, I wouldn't say are supposed to be there, but slated to start there at the beginning of the year."

Said Span: "It just gives headaches for the other team. You got Jayson (Werth) and Ramos and LaRoche and you're adding Z back in the lineup, it just makes the lineup a whole lot deeper and it doesn't give the other pitchers a break."

Span is currently getting on base at a solid clip and using his speed. Anthony Rendon is heating up. Werth, LaRoche and Zimmerman give the Nats a potent middle of the order. Ramos and Desmond add pop behind them, and Danny Espinosa is trending upward of late.

That's a solid lineup, right there, one close to the one the Nats thought they'd have most of this season. Now, they're just waiting on Bryce Harper to return, and the whole thing will be back in place.

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