Zimmerman handles left field with ease -- and no E's
Nats veteran returns from DL, records two putouts in move from third base
WASHINGTON -- Ryan Zimmerman was activated from the 15-day disabled list Tuesday and was instrumental in the Nationals' 7-0 victory over the Phillies. After 1,119 games played at third base, Zimmerman started in left field for the first time in his big league career, borrowing Jayson Werth's glove for the series opener, and went 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Zimmerman felt right at home at Nationals Park. He said it helped that he played three games in the outfield for Class A Advanced Potomac before he returned to the Nationals.
"Getting in the games down there, being able to do the work while I was on the DL helped a lot," Zimmerman said. "There is nothing like getting into the first game, getting a couple of balls. Getting a couple of hits helped, too. I felt good."
Zimmerman made two putouts in the game. In the fourth inning, Zimmerman made a nice running catch off the bat of Chase Utley. Teammate Denard Span didn't expect Zimmerman to close on the ball as fast as he did.
"I thought maybe if he was going to catch it, maybe he had to slide or dive" Span said. "I was kind of looking at the ball, keeping him in my peripheral and all of sudden I see him closing in on the ball. It was pretty impressive."
Two innings later, he caught a routine fly ball hit by Marlon Byrd.
"The other was actually the first routine fly ball that I've gotten through the whole rehab process," Zimmerman said. "All the catches have been like the first one I've caught. To get one like that was nice. It felt good."
Zimmerman said he was ready for the position switch and reiterated that he would do anything to help the team win. He didn't show any signs of being nervous before Tuesday's game. In fact, Zimmerman was stoic when the media approached him about playing the outfield.
Zimmerman missed almost two months of action because of a fractured right thumb he sustained against the Braves on April 12. He said the thumb feels great.
First baseman/outfielder Tyler Moore was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse in a corresponding move. When he saw his name in the lineup as an outfielder Tuesday, Zimmerman thought nothing of it. He took the attitude that a lot of players have who play left field.
"Obviously, there is an adjustment of playing a different position, but I feel pretty comfortable," Zimmerman said. "Time will tell how well I actually do in the games up here. I feel I can do well enough to help us win and not really stick out. …
"I'm not saying I'm going to lead the league in assists or win a Gold Glove or anything like that. I feel there have been people who have played left field … I'm not going say that aren't as good as me. I haven't even played a game out there, but I feel I'm athletic enough to at least blend in and not cause any problems."
Zimmerman brings power to left field, which the team hasn't had since Bryce Harper tore ligaments in his left thumb in late April.
The Nationals were thinking about Zimmerman in the outfield ever since he started taking fly balls out there several weeks ago while his thumb was still in a cast. Zimmerman seems like a natural when he goes back on the ball. Zimmerman didn't give the Nationals any problems when the thought of him playing the outfield came up.
"He was fine. His concern was being back in the lineup and doing what he needs to do in order to help us win games," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "There is certainly some work that has been done, will probably continue to be done in that regard. So we don't know if it's going to be every day or not. It's tonight and we know that."
Maybe Zimmerman needed a change of scenery. He acknowledged that playing third base the last few years has been tough for him because he had to deal with shoulder issues. It got to the point where he had a tough time throwing across the diamond. Not even surgery has helped. Before going on the DL, Zimmerman was throwing sidearm to first.
"The last couple of years at third have been tough for me -- mentally, physically. I really had to grind it out. So it's been tough," Zimmerman said."But to learn something new, to go out there and have fun and play ball, it's refreshing, I guess. Most importantly, it gives us the best chance to win. That's the point."
Williams said Zimmerman will spend most of his time as a left fielder, but he didn't rule out Zimmerman going back to third base once Harper is activated from the DL. Harper is not expected back until after the All-Star break.
"I'm glad to have him back in the lineup. We need him to lengthen our lineup and get those four at-bats from him every day to help us win," Williams said about his Zimmerman's return. "We have to be mindful of his thumb and how he throws every day because he is still in the healing process. So we have to monitor that and make sure we take as much pressure off that if possible. He is a great athlete and he will be able to handle it and he'll do fine. It could change from day to day."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.