Williams juggles lineup hoping to spark Zimmerman

Nationals manager Matt Williams will again be short-handed tonight, playing without Yunel Escobar, who injured his right wrist on a check-swing during his first at-bat last night. Escobar left the game immediately and underwent X-rays shortly after, which proved negative.

“He’s still a little sore so we’ll have to keep evaluating day to day and see where he’s at,” Williams said. “It’s a big force coming through there when you’re fully committed to a swing and then you try to stop it, especially when you get up in the strike zone because your hands leave your body and then that’s the end of the pendulum. I’ve done it. It’s no fun. The preliminary tests are OK on him.”

Anthony Rendon starts at third base with Danny Espinosa at second.

Ryan Zimmerman watches hit white.jpgWith Escobar unavailable, Williams has juggled his batting order, giving tonight’s lineup a try for the first time this season. Ryan Zimmerman, in the midst of a slump, will bat second with Bryce Harper third and then Rendon in the cleanup spot.

“The fact that we have Anthony back and we can put him behind Harp is good,” Williams explained. “And put Harp behind Zim and hopefully get him some good pitches to hit and he can have some success and get rolling. If he does get rolling, it’s good. So hopefully that’s the case starting today.”

Zimmerman is slashing a lowly .140/.203/.228 with one homer and seven RBIs in his last 16 games. His lack of production has obviously been damaging to the thick of the Nats lineup whose run production has dropped off drastically despite the fact that Harper has reached base at least twice in 11 of the 16 games during Zimmerman’s slump.

Williams has spent some time trying to figure out the difference in Zimmerman’s plate approach recently.

“I looked at tape and talked to him,” Williams said. “He seems to be drifting a little bit toward the pitcher which would take him off plane a little bit. You know, he’s got the leg kick which is a timing mechanism and if it goes haywire then it can throw other things off. He’s got a lot of movement in his swing and approach. But he’s been working hard at calming that down a little bit, getting the foot down earlier and getting into position.”

Zimmerman has started 44 games in his 11-year career batting second. He is 46-for-182 (.253) with 11 homers and 21 RBIs in the two-hole.

With Stephen Strasburg and Doug Fister on the 15-day disabled list, the Nationals are dipping into their talented pool of prospects for tomorrow’s game against the Cubs. Right-hander Joe Ross will be recalled from Double-A Harrisburg to make his major league debut.

The 22-year-old is 2-2 with a 2.81 ERA in nine starts for Harrisburg this season.

“We’re losing two-fifths of our rotation right now so we have to have starting pitching,” Williams explained. “One of the organizational strengths is starting pitching but it has to come from the minor league system so that’s the choice you have.”

Meanwhile, Williams indicated the team is working on plans for Fister to begin a minor league rehab stint. Fister participated in batting practice with the other starters before tonight’s game. He said before the game that he has been able to throw all of his pitches during bullpen sessions without any discomfort.

Strasburg continues to throw on the side. Williams said it’s possible that Strasburg could return to the rotation without needing a minor league rehab assignment.

“It depends on how short it is,” Williams said. “The steps are bullpen, live, some competition, turn up the heat a little bit and let it go and see where he’s at. So that depends on where he’s gonna be in the next few days and what he can and can’t do.”

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