Someone had to go to make room on the roster for the returning Ryan Zimmerman. The Nats' 26-year-old third baseman and three-hole hitter will be back in Nationals Park tonight, reinstated from the 15-Day DL and recalled from a rehab assigment, with 26-year-old right-hander Craig Stammen optioned to Triple-A Syracuse. The return of one of the Nationals' middle of the order bats isn't bringing an end to manager Jim Riggleman's lineup experiments, however, as he continues to attempt to create offense where there's been little to none.
Jayson Werth's still leading off, tonight's starter, Yunesky Maya, is batting eighth. Jerry Hairston's hitting ninth and he's starting in left with the left-handed Jaime Garcia on the hill for St. Louis. Rick Ankiel gets the start in center, hitting seventh, Ian Desmond, Zim, Michael Morse, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos two through six.
The team Zimmerman returns to is a 30-36 squad with a three-game win streak coming off a successful 6-5 road trip that D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio hosts Kevin Kennedy and Jim Duquette this afternoon on "Power Alley" has hit a lot of their marks for improvement, with a defense that is, "...vastly improved":
Mike Rizzo: "With the acquisiton of Adam LaRoche at first, who's now hurt, he just changed the whole dynamic of that infield and with the improved play of our center fielder, be it Roger Bernadina or Rick Ankiel and our left fielder with [Laynce] Nix and Michael Morse, we felt that we have a great core of good defensive players. We've got good young guys, we've got [Wilson] Ramos and Pudge[Rodriguez] behind the plate [who] are terrific defensively. [Ian] Desmond's playing terrific. [Danny] Espinosa is a Gold Glove caliber second baseman and with Jayson Werth in right field, who's a great two-way player...
"You've seen the results, the early results this season have been great. We came out of the chute a little slow defensively, but we've played great since then, set a franchise record for most innings without an error, I think over a hundred innings without an error now, and playing great, which goes hand-in-hand with our starting pitching, [which] is much better because of it. It's a pitch-to-contact staff, they're not afraid, they don't nibble, they're not walking guys, and thus our starting pitching has been better than anybody expected it to be outside of our organization.
"Where we have stalled a little bit is offensively. Specifically with hitting, and clutch situations with runners in scoring position. And a lot of that can be contributed to...I don't know too many teams, you guys can maybe justify this, when you lose your third and fifth hitter in your lineup, with Ryan Zimmerman out almost all year, and LaRoche playing hurt and now out almost all year, you're losing 65-70 HR's and 200 RBI's, and two really good on base percentage guys and it's hard to weather that.
"It changes the whole dynamic of the lineup. It changes what kind of player Werth is going to be, and what player Michael Morse is going to be and now you're really relying on three or four rookies to produce for you when otherwise they could be secondary players. We'd like to get better clutch hitting, we think with Zim coming back we feel good that that's another big bat in the lineup and we feel better about ourselves."
"We feel that at 30-36, we're certainly not happy that that's our record. We feel that we should be playing much, much better. We have lost I think fourteen or fifteen one-run games this season, so we play it tight to the vest every day. It's grind it out baseball every day. It's pitching, defense, baserunning and athleticism, and we're a team that went from, I think 29th in the league last year going first-to-third to I think one of the top two or three, and we're one of the top two or three in stolen bases so, we've hit on a lot of our marks, we're certainly not satisfied where we're at, we've got to get better offensively and continue to improve."