Zimmerman returns from paternity leave, Turner back to Triple-A

The Nationals reinstated Ryan Zimmerman off the paternity leave list this morning and optioned Trea Turner back to Triple-A Syracuse, a move that was expected all along but nonetheless raised the question once again of the organization's plan for its top infield prospect.

Zimmerman was required to return to the active roster after spending the maximum three days on paternity leave following the birth of his second daughter on Thursday. He'll rejoin the club in Chicago in time for Tuesday's interleague series opener against the White Sox.

Turner, meanwhile, returns to Syracuse after spending the weekend with the Nationals in Cincinnati, where he appeared in two games, going 3-for-3 with a walk in his lone start Friday night.


It was a fleeting glimpse of what the 22-year-old infielder could offer this club (most notably contact and speed) but his return to the minors today underscores the organization's overriding philosophy right now with their top prospects: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Though starting shortstop Danny Espinosa has struggled at the plate all season - he ended the weekend hitting .196 with a .291 on-base percentage and .638 OPS - the Nationals have played well with him in their lineup. Over the last two seasons, they are 87-62 (a .584 winning percentage when Espinosa starts, 30-40 (.429) when he does not. This year, they're 33-21 when he starts, 1-2 when he does not.

Beyond that, the Nationals still appear to value Espinosa's defense over Turner's offensive potential. Despite his lack of production at the plate, Espinosa still ranks 15th out of 26 qualifying big league shortstops in WAR (according to Fangraphs) based in large part on his defense.

Turner, who is batting .310 with a .376 on-base percentage, .848 OPS and 17 steals in 17 attempts with Syracuse, does figure to rejoin the Nationals roster at some point this season. But that permanent move won't be made just yet.

So, why did the Nationals bother to call up the 22-year-old if they knew all along they'd be sending him back after only three games? The organization preferred to replace Zimmerman with another right-handed infielder. Thus, left-handed outfielder Matt den Dekker didn't fit the description. Veteran infielder Scott Sizemore, a right-handed batter with 166 games of big league experience, isn't on the Nationals' 40-man roster and thus couldn't be promoted without someone else being removed.

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