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Matt Williams removed Ryan Zimmerman from last night’s game for defensive reasons

Jul 3, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT

ryan zimmerman getty Getty Images

Bryce Harper‘s return to the Nationals outfield meant Ryan Zimmerman had to shift from left field back to third base, where he was once a standout defender and is now a huge question mark because of chronic shoulder problems.

And last night manager Matt Williams removed Zimmerman from the game with a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning for defensive reasons, putting into focus the third baseman’s throwing issues and what the Nationals are truly dealing with going forward.

Williams shifted Anthony Rendon from second base to third base, where he played regularly when Zimmerman was in the outfield, and brought Danny Espinosa off the bench to play second base.

Asked afterward about the move, Williams told James Wagner of the Washington Post: “At that point, we want our finest defense in there. We want to make sure that in a tight game like that we do that.”

For his part, Zimmerman called it “the right move” and added:

I’m still getting used to playing third again. Like I’ve said the whole time, Anthony has played the hell out of third base and Danny is one of, if not the best, defensive second basemen in the game. If we’re up late in the game, I have no problem doing that. I think it gives us the best chance to win.

So expect to see Zimmerman removed from games in the late innings regularly, which would have sounded crazy just a couple years ago and still seems a little bit weird considering he’s one of the Nationals’ building blocks and owed another $86 million through 2019.

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  1. dowhatifeellike - Jul 3, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    Would WIlliams also pull him from the outfield? You kind of need to be able to throw out there, too.

    • emdash01 - Jul 3, 2014 at 10:33 AM

      He has at least once or twice put McLouth in for him.

    • billybawl - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:39 AM

      Coco Crisp plays CF and can’t throw at all. Not suggesting it’s ideal, but you can put a weak arm in the OF, esp. LF.

  2. chc4 - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:14 AM

    Yet another long contract extension that a team already regrets.

    • 18thstreet - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:46 AM

      Looks like he peaked in 2010. I can understand why the Nationals extended him. It was after the 2011 season, he was the face of the franchise, and teams like Boston, New York (A) and Philadelphia could all be expected to bid on him if he reached free agency after the 2013 season. But it was definitely a mistake.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/graphs.aspx?playerid=4220&position=3B&page=0&type=mini

    • emdash01 - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:06 PM

      If I were the Nationals, I’d definitely be one of the teams trying to bring the DH to the NL when the time to negotiate the next CBA rolls around.

  3. Andee - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:18 AM

    Thought he’s played a stellar 3B since returning. I’d also want his bat in the line up in late game situations, too.

    • someguyinva - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:02 PM

      You’ve got a point re: RZ’s bat, but I think it’s going to be a situational thing.

      Zimmerman made the last out in the bottom of the 6th last night. The Nats took the lead in the bottom of the 7th, while sending only four men to the plate, IIRC (it was the inning of Desmond’s replay reviewed HR). If the Nats protect the lead from there, they only bat one more time, and Zimmerman’s spot in the order doesn’t come around till fifth in that inning, so it’s no guarantee that he’ll get to hit again.

  4. 18thstreet - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    Is there any hope that his shoulder can be fixed?

    • shawndc04 - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:38 AM

      No, it’s degenerative and irreparable at this point. It’s been operated on more than once, and Ryan says it is bone on bone and will not get any better.

      • 18thstreet - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:41 AM

        Oof. One hopes that he can transition smoothly to first base, where the throwing issues won’t matter nearly as much.

        For a little while there, he was really one of the most complete players in baseball.

  5. nbjays - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    “…Danny is one of, if not the best, defensive second basemen in the game.”

    With this statement, Zimmerman shows what is wrong with players evaluating their peers for such things as All-Star selections and Hall of Fame voting.

    • 18thstreet - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:23 PM

      Teammates say positive things about their teammates. I wouldn’t read much into it.

    • natstowngreg - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:27 PM

      I’ve seen Espinosa play 2B a lot. He’s very good. His problems are in the batter’s box. Though Zimmerman was commenting on defense, not offense, and not touting Espinosa for the All-Star Game.

      That noted, I agree players aren’t reliable judges of their peers. The NFL does player balloting for the Pro Bowl, along with fan balloting. Players show their own biases in voting for other players.

      • karlkolchak - Jul 3, 2014 at 2:53 PM

        Yep…Espinosa might have won a Gold Glove by now were it not for his insistence on swinging at every pitch that comes within three feet of the strike zone.

      • mazblast - Jul 3, 2014 at 6:31 PM

        As Reds’ announcer Marty Brennaman said so often of the offensively-inconsistent Aaron Boone waving at sliders and changeups three feet outside, “He couldn’t have hit that one with an ironing board”.

        All of which shouldn’t effect how people view a player’s defense–but it does.

  6. sabatimus - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    It won’t be the last time this happens.

    • mazblast - Jul 3, 2014 at 6:34 PM

      If Zimmerman is cool with it, it’s great. If Zimmerman were to not be cool with it, too bad. Keeping all your players happy is an admirable goal, but the manager is being paid to win, and if they don’t win, he’ll lose his job.

  7. sportsfan18 - Jul 3, 2014 at 6:32 PM

    Zimmerman will most likely be their 1st baseman next season and going forward…

    Yeah, LaRoche has played very well this year.

    Took the team a while to sign him the other yr for two yrs and he’s playing lights out this yr… but look at his 4 yrs with the team… this has been his only really good year. I said “really” good year.

    He played OK in 2012.

    LaRoche will be 35 next season too. His stats this season are way above his career numbers.

    The odds are very high that he’ll regress next season down to around his career numbers, which aren’t terrible by any means.

    Overall, I’d go with the younger Zimm at 1st who is already signed, remove his arm from both the outfield and 3rd base and let the 35 yr old (next yr I mean) LaRoche go play a yr or two elsewhere to end his career).

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