Josh Bell starts in left field for the Nationals tonight, and while this is not a new development, it is notable that manager Davey Martinez felt comfortable enough in his slugging first baseman’s ability to handle himself out there that he was willing to do this for a game inside spacious loanDepot Park.
The Marlins’ home stadium features one of the largest outfields in baseball, so this is perhaps not as easy an assignment for Bell as it was the three previous times he started in left field at Nationals Park or the one time he started in right field last month in Atlanta.
“He’s done well out there,” Martinez said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “I watch him. He gets behind the ball. His breaks on fly balls have been really good. So he gets an opportunity to go out there. In-game, things might change. But for right now, I like having him and (Ryan Zimmerman) in the lineup together.”
That, of course, is the whole impetus to Bell playing any outfield this season: a desire to have both him and Zimmerman in the same lineup without a DH being available to them.
Because the Nats are facing a left-hander tonight in Miami’s Jesús Luzardo - they’ll see another one Tuesday in Trevor Rogers - the matchup worked well in Martinez’s mind. Besides, both Bell and Zimmerman are producing at the plate these days, so there’s added reason to try to get both at-bats in the same game.
Bell’s long climb up the statistical ladder from an awful start to his season continues. He enters tonight’s game sporting an .828 OPS that ranks 12th among all qualified major league first basemen. Since May 13, a span of 108 games that represents two-thirds of a full season, his OPS is a robust .904.
“From where he started to where he is now, it’s unbelievable,” Martinez said, referencing Bell’s .133 batting average and .487 OPS through his first 23 games. “For me, he’s been one of the best, consistent players in the league. And the numbers show it right now.”
Zimmerman, meanwhile, is enjoying a September surge. Over his last 14 games, the soon-to-be 37-year-old is batting .346 and slugging .692. And he continues to mash left-handers, batting .298 with a .917 OPS against them this season.
The longest-tenured player in the organization hasn’t made any decisions about his future yet, and last week, he suggested he probably won’t decide until sometime this winter. But it’s understandable if Martinez wants to try to find as many opportunities as possible to play him during the home stretch.
“Honestly, it all depends on Zim,” the manager said. “My biggest goal was to keep him healthy. Knock on wood, so far, so good. It’s just based on conversations with him and how he feels. Obviously today we’ve got a lefty. Tomorrow we’ve got a lefty. We’ll see how he feels. ...
“I don’t know what his plans are. He’s been very quiet about it. He tells me every day he’s going to take it day by day. So we’ll talk more about it, probably when the season ends. But he’s been great. If I can play him, I’ll play him. If not, he’s been doing a great job coming off the bench and getting us those big hits.”