Given the losses his team has sustained elsewhere around the field, Nationals manager Davey Martinez has been toying with the idea of using Josh Bell in left field on occasion as a means of getting Ryan Zimmerman into the lineup alongside his usual first base platoon partner.
But in order for that plan to work, not only does Bell have to prove he can handle the outfield for the first time since he was a rookie in Pittsburgh, but Zimmerman has to prove he can rediscover the swing that produced so many clutch hits in April but has gone mostly cold since.
Zimmerman entered Saturday night’s game against the Padres batting only .240 with a .730 OPS across 160 plate appearances, numbers that had been plummeting over the last six weeks. On June 1, the veteran was batting .319 with a .941 OPS. Over his next 29 games, he hit a paltry .127 (8-for-63) with a .424 OPS.
He did snap an 0-for-15 slump with a three-run homer off San Diego lefty Blake Snell, but that remains his lone hit of the month so far.
Given his struggles and Bell’s resurgence at the plate since his abysmal April, Zimmerman hasn’t see much action lately. Saturday night’s start was his first in two weeks, which hasn’t helped him find his stroke again.
“For me, when Zim is going really good, as we all know, he hits the ball to right-center field better than anybody,” Martinez said in a Zoom session with reporters. “And that’s something that we always talk about, for him to just stay on the ball and be aggressive. A lot of times, when he starts going bad, he starts taking a lot of pitches and he’s always hitting with two strikes. We want him to be a little bit more aggressive, especially with guys in scoring position. Go out there and see a ball you can handle and let it go.”
It still remains to be seen whether Martinez will try out both Zimmerman and Bell in the lineup at the same time, but Bell does continue to take early defensive drills in left field. On Monday afternoon, his manager (a former outfielder himself) was teaching him proper technique on reading fly balls off the bat.
“We’ve just got to get him out there,” Martinez said. “When we get somebody that hasn’t done something for a long period of time, we call it like the ‘21-day fix.’ If you do something for 21 straight days and you work on something, you seem to get a routine and get repetition and you feel good about it. So we’ll keep throwing him out there, keep seeing what he’s doing.
“That’s not to say where, if we need him, that he’s ready. But just by my conversations with him, he feels a lot better out there. He’s getting more comfortable. ... Here’s a guy that when he comes up to me and says ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win,’ that’s just a testament about not only him, but all these guys on this club.”