As we noted last week, Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked at length during last week’s visit with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies about the plan for Ryan Zimmerman as the 34-year-old infielder works his way back from a partial plantar fascia rupture that has kept him out of the lineup since July 21st.
Zimmerman returned from a 55-game stint on the Injured List for plantar fasciitis back on June 28th, for an eleven-game stretch in which he was 13 for 43 (.302/.326/.419) with five doubles before he went down with the rupture.
He’s now played six games between Double-A Harrisburg and High-A Potomac in which he is 6 for 16 with two doubles and five walks, though the results at the plate are not really as important as getting at bats and reps in the field.
“We need for him to get his at bats, we need for him to move around and play nine innings in his rehab stint, you know,” Rizzo explained.
“I think that the fact that [Matt] Adams and [Howie] Kendrick are playing well at first base right now gives us the opportunity to really let Zim get some at bats in the minor league rehab before he comes to the big league club.
“Recently, when he’s come off the DL, we kind of get him to the big leagues as soon as we can and he really figures it out at the big league level, which is often problematic. Zim’s swing is very complicated, it’s a very timing-mechanism swing, and the more at bats he gets down there, when he comes back he can really hit the ground running. But he gives us a great option from the right side. He’s a good defender at first base, so there’s ample opportunities to utilize him in the lineup. It just makes our club much more deeper, much more dangerous, you’ve got yourself a prototypical run-producer back on the roster and it just adds to the good chemistry and the depth of this lineup, which is probably as deep as we ever had since we’ve been around here.”
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez talked over the weekend in Chicago about working the veteran first baseman back into the mix when he’s back in the big leagues.
“He gives you options, you know,” Martinez told reporters, “... and like I said, when you look down, on days that they don’t play and you look down and you have all these veteran guys that can pinch hit, and believe it or not it helps that these guys can play multiple positions now, you know, [Gerardo] Parra, [Asdrúbal Cabrera], those guys help tremendously, so yeah, I can’t wait to get Ryan back and get him back here and be a full force.”
Martinez will have plenty of options once Zimmerman returns, including Cabrera, who started the series finale in Chicago at first base, playing the position for the first time in his big league career and acquitting himself well.
“He’s played everywhere else in the infield,” Martinez said when asked about the decision to put him at first, “so catching the ball I don’t think is a problem, it’s the footwork around first base that kind of worries me a little bit, you know, because you’ve got to remember you’ve got a runner coming to step on the base, so I don’t want him to get his foot out there [and] get stepped on, so we’ve got to be cautious about that, but he’s been going out there with [first base coach Tim Bogar], and that’s what they’ve been working on, they’ve been working on scoops, and we tell him the big thing is to keep the ball in front of you when that happens, and just go out and play baseball.”
With Kendrick (.330/.382/.563, 21 doubles, 14 HRs, 2.1 fWAR over 96 G, 301 PAs), who has played first and second, Adams (.244/.290/.517, 14 2B, 20 HRs, 0.5 fWAR in 97 G, 270 PAs), who’s struggled against lefties with most of his power against righties, Zimmerman and Cabrera all capable of playing first base, Martinez will have plenty of options at first down the stretch.
The run the Nationals have been on since late May, 54-26 in 80 games, has for the most part been accomplished without Zimmerman in the lineup, but when healthy, as Rizzo said, he is a solid defender at first base, with the ability to produce at the plate if he gets going, but is there enough time to get him back up to speed while the Nats are fighting to get back into the postseason?
Will Martinez be able to get everyone rest and at bats down the stretch so the roster is firing on all cylinders when/if they make it back to the postseason?