The Nationals optioned Taylor to Double-A Harrisburg following last night’s win in Miami to clear a spot on the 25-man roster for Zimmerman, who will be activated off the injured list before tonight’s series opener in Detroit, according to multiple sources familiar with the transaction.
Zimmerman returns nearly nine weeks after he was placed on the 10-day IL with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, an ailment the veteran first baseman believed at the time wouldn’t sideline him nearly that long. He finally made progress in his rehab over the last two weeks, though, and was able to play five games for Harrisburg, including the full nine innings at first base on two occasions.
Manager Davey Martinez faces a challenge trying to spread around playing time among his four veteran first and second basemen, with Zimmerman joining the already productive Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick and Brian Dozier in a significant logjam.
The weekend interleague series against the Tigers will allow Martinez to use one of them as designated hitter, but that’s only a temporary fix.
Martinez hinted earlier this week that Zimmerman, the Nationals’ all-time leader in most every statistical category and one RBI shy of 1,000 for his career, is going to have to prepare for less playing time than he has been used to receiving during his 15-year career.
“I’ve talked to him about it,” Martinez said Wednesday in Miami. “He’s not going to come here and play every day nine innings. And he understands that Howie and Matt are both doing well, so they’re going to get some playing time as well.”
Zimmerman was hitting just .213 with three homers, 11 RBIs and a .676 OPS in 22 games before he injured his foot, but over the last several seasons he has been as productive (if not more so) than the club’s other options at first base.
Over the last three seasons, Zimmerman is hitting .283/.345/.525 in 866 at-bats. All other Nationals first basemen in that time have hit .271/.327/.517 in 722 at-bats. Even when excluding his 2017 All-Star campaign, Zimmerman over the last two seasons is batting .257/.332/.474 in 350 at-bats. All other Nationals first basemen in that time have hit .264/.318/.512.
The decision on the corresponding move to open a spot for Zimmerman’s return loomed for a while, and over the last week it became clearer that Taylor was most in jeopardy of losing his spot. The 28-year-old outfielder had been receiving scant playing time, especially with the emergence of veteran Gerardo Parra as Martinez’s preferred fourth outfielder.
Taylor started only three games in the last month and totaled only 27 plate appearances in all that time. Overall, he was batting .211 with zero homers, two RBIs, seven walks and 32 strikeouts in 85 plate appearances.
It’s the first time Taylor has been removed from the big league roster for performance reasons since April 2017, when he was optioned to Triple-A. That stint in Syracuse lasted only two days, though, because of injuries, so Taylor was immediately recalled to Washington.
The brevity of that demotion is actually what left Taylor vulnerable to this demotion. Had he stayed in the minors more than 10 days, he would have been out of options for the rest of his career. But because the stint wasn’t long enough, the Nationals retained that final option, which they have now chosen to use.
Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Taylor had been optioned to Triple-A Fresno. He has been optioned to Double-A Harrisburg.