Williams: Zimmerman doing “a fine job” in LF

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — In the eighth inning of the Nationals’ loss to the Braves on Thursday night, Atlanta’s Jason Heyward lofted a shallow fly to left field with Freddie Freeman on third base and no outs. Under most circumstances, there would have been no doubt that the less-than-fleet-footed Freeman would hold on the play.

But with Ryan Zimmerman and his troublesome right shoulder still relatively untested in the outfield, it was reasonable to wonder whether the Braves would take their chances.

Zimmerman caught the ball, perhaps about 100 feet past the infield dirt. Freeman tagged and took a few steps toward home but quickly stopped and retreated. Zimmerman’s toss fluttered in and one-hopped his cutoff man.

Is Nats manager Matt Williams surprised opponents haven’t forced the issue more against Zimmerman, set to make his 16th start in left field on Friday?

“Every team has tape, so they can go look at what he’s doing, but you’re not just gonna run just to run, because he has the ability to throw you out,” Williams said. “The fact that he’s out there and playing well helps in that regard. So you can just continue to run, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to be safe. Every team has to look at what their potential for scoring runs are in that inning, how many outs there are, who’s coming up, all those things that you would do normally.”

Williams said he believes Zimmerman has “done a fine job” in left this season, after spending basically his entire professional career at third. He pointed out not only the prevented sacrifice fly, but also a play in the seventh inning, when Zimmerman cut off a Tommy La Stella liner in the left-center gap and got the back in quickly enough to hold La Stella to a single.

Zimmerman hasn’t faced a lot of difficult plays in left so far. He’s shown his athleticism, such as on the diving catch he made to rob the Giants’ Brandon Crawford in San Francisco last week. He’s also shown his inexperience, such as in Thursday’s second inning, when a broken-bat bloop from Heyward seemed to fool Zimmerman just long enough to drop a few feet in front of him for a hit.

Certainly, the throwing issues that frequently plagued Zimmerman at third over the past two seasons have not made nearly as big of an impact with him in left. Those situations come up less often, and when they do, Williams believes “it’s a completely different throw.”

“It’s a bigger target, certainly, a bigger range of target,” he said. “The second baseman or the third baseman or the catcher doesn’t necessarily have to stand on the base, so that comes into effect. It’s a little different throwing motion, too. He’s on top of the ball a little bit more in the outfield than he would be in the infield.”

All of this may or may not still be relevant when Bryce Harper comes off the disabled list, which the Nats hope will happen at the beginning of July. Williams has indicated that he intends to mix and match his lineup at that point, which could have Zimmerman bouncing between left field, third base and even first base.

For now, Zimmerman is “starting the progression” toward getting ready for the hot corner, according to Williams. He’s currently working out there every other day and will continue building up as the Nats go on a road trip next week.

“It’s a question that has to be answered,” Williams said of the lineup decisions, “and we’ll answer it when the time comes.”

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

 

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