On Zimmerman’s impressive play in left, and what the future holds

SAN FRANCISCO - As I’ve said in the past, I don’t put much stock in how the standings look in June, especially not when it comes to jockeying for a division lead when there are still around 100 games left on the schedule.

That said, some people seem to really care about that sort of thing. For those people, here’s a link to the up-to-date major league standings.

I have a feeling you’ll like what you see when you scroll down to the National League East portion of the page.

When Ryan Zimmerman made the move to left field upon his return from the disabled list, we all wondered how he’d fare out there. Zimmerman is athletic, yes, but he was shifting to a position he’d never played before and was essentially doing so on the fly, in the middle of the season with barely any on-the-job, in-game practice in low-stress environments (read: spring training or rehab games).

Well, through nine games, we’ve gotten a pretty good idea of what Zimmerman looks like in left. His arm will be tested by opponents until he proves he can make strong, on-target throws, but in no way, shape or form has Zimmerman done anything to embarrass himself out there.

In fact, he looks pretty darn good.

Last night, Zimmerman made a couple of impressive plays. In the sixth, he sprinted towards the foul line, went into a dive, and made a ridiculous grab before slamming his face into the outfield turf. That play saved a run. In the seventh, he came in on a sinking fly ball in front of him, called off Ian Desmond and made a nice sliding grab. That one won’t make the highlight reels, but it was a sneaky-tough play.

All of this has left Zimmerman’s coaches and teammates smiling and shaking their heads, amazed that a guy who played third base his entire professional career could make a move to left and immediately look so smooth.

“It’s remarkable, really, to see him change positions and look so natural,” Jayson Werth said. “It’s not like beginner’s luck or anything. He’s getting good reads. He’s running good routes. I said the other day, he makes left field look small. As an outfielder, that’s the ultimate compliment. ...

“It’s kind of fun to see. I know he’s enjoying himself and he’s having a good time. So it’s good.”

A catcher earlier in his career who converted into an outfielder, Werth knows a good bit about the transition Zimmerman has made. He knows it isn’t easy based on personal experience, as well as what he’s seen from others around the game over the last decade-plus.

“People always say -- I’ve heard it 100 times in my career -- ‘Oh, I’ll just go to the outfield,’ ” Werth said. “It’s not that easy. I’ve seen plenty of people that say, ‘I’ll just go to the outfield.’ They go to the outfield, and a few weeks later, their career is over. For him to go out there, to really make the adjustment and to look as good as he does, it’s pretty cool.

“I’m happy for him. He’s having a good time with it. He’s making big plays, and he looks comfortable. It’s been a natural progression for him, and it’s been fun to watch.”

This all leads to the big question: what happens with Zimmerman when Bryce Harper comes back off the disabled list, likely sometime in early July?

Manager Matt Williams answered that question yesterday, saying that the plan is for Harper to take over in left field, move Zimmerman back to third base and slide Anthony Rendon over to second. That’s the way things were set up on opening day before injuries rocked the Nationals’ roster, and that’s the way things will apparently look the bulk of the time once Harper returns.

“All things being equal, if Harp’s healthy and ready to play, I don’t think there’s much of a choice,” Williams said. “I think the fantastic thing is, (Zimmerman) has approached playing left field with vigor and with enthusiasm and has worked hard to be a really good left fielder. And that’s just a compliment to him and a compliment about what he thinks about our team and what he’s willing to do.

“But all things being equal, I don’t see much of a choice. He’s got a Gold Glove at third base, so we have to take that into consideration, too. But he’s played really well.”

He has, indeed. And we should all enjoy watching him out in left while we get to see it.

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