Washington Nationals' manager Matt Williams penciled Ryan Zimmerman in as the Nats' left fielder and no.5 hitter for tonight's series opener with the Philadelphia Phillies, but the first-year skipper was reluctant to describe the decision to play Zimmerman in left after nine-plus seasons at third in the nation's capital as a "position change," preferring to call it a temporary solution that suits the Nationals' needs right now.
"He's willing to do whatever needs to be done to help us win," Williams said this afternoon when he met with reporters after the lineup was announced. "The guy has got a Gold Glove at third base, but he's willing to do whatever it takes for us to get done what we need to get done."
Zimmerman played three games in left field during his rehab stint with the Potomac Nationals, but he's still getting used to the position, so the Nats' skipper said they weren't expecting much.
"We're not expecting anything out of him in left field other than if it gets hit out there catch it and throw it back in or whatever it takes," Williams explained. "And that's his philosophy on it. I'm glad to have him back in the lineup though, we need him to lengthen our lineup and get those four ABs from him every day and help us win. I know he's excited to get back."
Zimmerman fractured his right thumb diving back into second base on a pickoff play in an April 12th game against the Atlanta Braves in Turner Field. When he went on the DL, the 29-year-old, '05 1st Round pick was 12 for 33, .364/.405/.636 with three doubles and two home runs in 10 games.
After playing 1,147 major league games in the infield, it's going to be a brand new experience for Zimmerman.
"There's some things out there that are just different," Williams said.
"There's balls down in the corner. There's ball that ricochet off of the fence and things that will be a challenge. We're willing to accept all of that with him going out there and the little experience that he does have. So, what's most important to us is that he's back and he feels good and he's able to get more out of his swing and help us and so, he's excited, we're excited to have him and we'll make some adjustments from a day-to-day basis, whether we need to move him back into the infield for a couple of innings or he gets a start at third, a start at first. So that will kind of be a day-to-day thing."
The plan, however, is for Zimmerman to spend most of his time in left for the near future.
"I guess that plan changes," Williams admitted, "but without saying definitively, the majority amount of the time, probably."
Now that the question of whether or not Zimmerman would actually play left has been answered, reporters wanted to know what is going to happen once Bryce Harper is back from the torn ligament he suffered sliding headfirst into third base in an April 25th game. Williams said Harper's still a month away.
"That's too far away," he said. "We have to worry about tonight. The thoughts about when Bryce comes back is that he'll go back into left field and Zim will come back in the infield. That's the initial thought. But we have to see how everything goes, we just can't say at this point."
As he reiterated throughout this afternoon's interview, Williams said he doesn't see the decision to move Zimmerman to left for now as a position change.
"I don't think Zim is an outfielder," Williams explained. "I think he's a great athlete and I think he can do a fine job out there. It's what we collectively think we need right now. Certainly you don't want to just say well, we're going to take other guys out of other positions and put him out there. He's been open to it and he's been excited about it. Would he like to play third? Of course, but he's willing to do whatever is needed for us to be competitive on an everyday basis and win games. I think he's a third baseman who's been pressed into duty to play the outfield."
"We have to make sure that we clarify that it's not necessarily a position change," Williams stressed.
"It's an interim basis until [Harper] gets back and plays in left field, which is roughly a month. It could be twice a week. We don't know. So he's willing to do whatever is needed to help us. And that in and of itself is a team player and a professional. I wouldn't classify it as a position change, necessarily, he's just willing to do whatever it takes."