For much of the season to date, Nationals manager Davey Martinez’s plan at first base was fairly simple. Josh Bell almost always started against right-handers and Ryan Zimmerman almost always started against lefties.
At this point, though, with Bell on a prolonged surge at the plate and Zimmerman now slumping after an electric April and May, Martinez’s decision on playing time isn’t quite as clear cut.
Take Tuesday night’s game in San Diego, for example. The Padres were starting Ryan Weathers, a left-hander. Zimmerman hadn’t been in the lineup since Saturday, when Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw was on the mound. But it was Bell who got the nod, in large part because of his recent hot streak that culminated with a three-hit, two-RBI showing Monday night, including a go-ahead homer in the seventh off a lefty.
And it was Bell again starting Wednesday night, batting cleanup against Padres righty Chris Paddack.
“Bell has been swinging the bat well,” Martinez said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “It’s hard to take him out when he had three hits the other day, and he got an opportunity to play yesterday, he lined out three times. So he’s getting an opportunity to play today.”
The truth of the matter is this: As much as Zimmerman was the bigger offensive threat earlier in the season, right now Bell clearly provides the more potent bat.
On May 12, Zimmerman owned a .913 OPS compared to Bell’s .493 mark. Since then, Bell is outperforming Zimmerman, .914 to .645. So it’s no wonder Bell is now getting the lion’s share of the playing time while Zimmerman tries to get himself on a roll again off the bench.
And yet Martinez dropped a whopper of a suggestion Wednesday, unsolicited, when discussing his two first basemen.
“Actually, it would be nice if I could get them both in the lineup together,” the manager said.
How would that be possible without a designated hitter?
“You might see Josh Bell play a little bit of left field,” Martinez said. “He’s been getting some work out there. He’s done it before. Who knows? We’re going to try to be creative and try to get the best lineup we can out there, and we’ll see what happens.”
Bell indeed played 16 games for the Pirates in right field as a rookie in 2016. And when the Nationals found themselves in a dire situation last week after Kyle Schwarber suffered a hamstring strain, Martinez was prepared to put the 255-lb. slugger out there if the team rallied late to force extra innings.
It never came to that, but it’s not out of the question Bell could find his way to left field at some point in the near future as the team tries to find creative ways to compensate for the loss of Schwarber.
“Just to get those two big bats in our lineup,” Martinez said, referring to Bell and Zimmerman. “I’m really not set in stone on it yet, but he has been working on it out there. I talked to him about it. He was all for it. So we’ll see what happens here in the future. It’s not going to be (something) that’s going to happen here in the next day or two. But I want him to get out there and get some fly balls. And just in case we’re in a pinch, it’s nice to know we can stick him out there.”