Remember early in the season when Ryan Zimmerman's fractured thumb led to some interesting lineup combinations as first-year Nationals manager Matt Williams juggled the batting order to get keep his bench players fresh?
Get ready for more of the same, which should make the guys riding the pine happier.
With Zimmerman landing on the 15-day disabled list because of a right hamstring strain, and the Nationals not releasing any definitive information on the severity of the injury or the timetable for Zimmerman's return, Williams will be spotting his bench players into the lineup more frequently.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported earlier today that Zimmerman would be lost for six to eight weeks, meaning he'd return no earlier than mid-September. So lineups like today's against the Reds and right-hander Johnny Cueto - where righty swinging Kevin Frandsen is manning second base instead of switch-hitting Danny Espinosa or Zach Walters - may become the norm.
"You don't want that because Zim's a real big part of our club," Williams told reporters before today's game at Great American Ball Park. "But ... it frees you up to get guys more rhythm, more at-bats and certainly develop some timing. It's hard when you get one at-bat and that's every two days. If you can get a guy a start, it's easier to maintain that timing and get some rhythm so they can have some success."
Frandsen doesn't have a lot of history against Cueto - he's 2-for-7 (.286) and has twice been hit by pitches in nine plate appearances - but he's the choice today. Frandsen has made only one start in July and Williams wants to keep him as sharp as possible.
"He's got at-bats against Cueto," Williams said. "Just being familiar. Hasn't had a start in a while, either. Had some pinch-hit appearances."
While Frandsen will get reacquainting himself with the batter's box, opposing hitters will be considering the changeup that left-hander Gio Gonzalez has been using frequently with some success. Williams said Gonzalez's comfort level with the pitch shows the southpaw has become more and more comfortable with it as part of his repertoire.
There's an added benefit: It gives opposing hitters something else to consider, making the cat-and-mouse game that is each at-bat a little more thought-intensive for a batter.
"It puts it in your mind," Williams explained. "Once it's in your mind, you can't just sit on fastball. From a hitter's perspective, if a pitcher's out there and he can't land his breaking ball or he can't land his changeup, then you eliminate it from your mind and you don't have to worry about it. Even at 90 mph, if a guy can spot a curveball and throw a changeup for a strike effectively, then the 90 mph fastball becomes 95 (mph)."