Nats’ Werth getting back on track

By Bill Ladson

WASHINGTON — Entering Tuesday’s action against the Rockies, Nationals outfielder Jayson Weryth was in a 7-for-52 slump and saw his batting average dip to .266.

So after Monday night’s 7-3 victory over the Rockies, Werth and hitting coach Rick Schu looked over video tape to figure out what’s wrong with Werth at the plate. The two came to the conclusion that Werth needed stand more upright in order to see the ball better.

The new stance paid off for Werth on Tuesday night. He went 2-for-3 with three RBIs in a 7-1 victory over Colorado.

“I had a pretty good mindset going into the game,” Werth said. “We made a minor adjustment, just shortened things up,”

In the first inning, with runners on first and second and no outs, Werth doubled down the left-field line, scoring Denard Span and Anthony Rendon. A few minutes before the RBI double, Werth hit a ball hard that went foul, and he had a feeling that his swing was back on track.

“I barreled it — way foul. I don’t remember the last time I did that,” Werth said. “I felt pretty confident after that. I put together a pretty good game. Hopefully, that will be the one to keep me going.”

Three innings later, Werth knocked in his third run of the game, doubling to right-center field, scoring Rendon.

“I’ve been able to barrel those balls to right-center and sometimes hit home runs on pitches like that,” Werth said. “That was a little more telling than the first hit. I feel good. … It was nice to come through for the guys tonight.”

Zimmermann concludes superb June

By Daniel Popper

WASHINGTON — Jordan Zimmermann made his final start in June Monday night, surrendering two earned runs over six innings to earn his sixth win of the season in the Nationals’ 7-3 victory over the Rockies.

And while the performance was certainly not Zimmermann’s best of the season, it capped off an outstanding month from the right-hander, who went 3-2 with a 1.43 ERA and .818 WHIP over six starts.

Zimmermann’s best outing of the month came on June 8 when he threw a two-hit, complete-game shutout while striking out a season-high 12 against the Padres. That showing came in the midst of a three-start span during which he allowed just one earned run in 25 innings.

Zimmermann’s tremendous June came after significant struggles in May, when he posted a 5.06 ERA in five starts.

“I’m just locating really well right now,” Zimmermann said. “Nothing really has changed, I’m just locating well and the slider’s really good. And when I have those two things working together, I can usually string some pretty good starts together.”

Zimmerman shines in return to third base

By Daniel Popper

WASHINGTON — During the past month, Ryan Zimmerman has more or less said farewell to third base — the position he manned exclusively for his first nine seasons with the Nationals. 

The former Gold Glove-winning third baseman started 25 of 26 games in left field after he returned from a fractured right thumb on June 3. The only game Zimmerman didn’t start in left field during that span was his first start of the season at first base on June 15 at the Cardinals.

But on Monday against the Rockies, Bryce Harper was reinstated from the disabled list after missing 57 games due to a torn left thumb ligament. And with the 21-year-old slugger reclaiming his spot in left field, Zimmerman returned to third base for the first time since April 12, going 3-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI and two runs scored in a 7-3 win.

“It’s definitely going to take some adjustment,” Zimmerman said. “I still have a lot of work to try to get back where I want to be. But it felt okay.”

In the top of 7th inning, Zimmerman made a play that illustrated what kind of ability he still possesses at the hot corner.

With pinch-hitter Corey Dickerson on first base and one out, center fielder Corey Dickerson hit a soft line drive off the end of his bat down the third-base line. Zimmerman took one step to his right, slid and caught the ball cleanly just before it hit the dirt. He then quickly jumped to his feet and fired a one-hopper across the diamond to double up Dickerson, ending the inning. 

“I would say it was impressive if I hadn’t seen it like 500 other times,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “He’s a good third baseman. There’s no doubt about that.” 

Ian Desmond punishes intentional walks

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — The Rockies faced a difficult choice in the sixth inning of Monday’s game at Nationals Park, as Bryce Harper trode to the plate with runners at second and third and one out in a 2-2 game. They could have right-hander Rob Scahill pitch to Harper, or walk him intentionally to load the bases in order to go after Ian Desmond in hopes of inducing an inning-ending double play.

Colorado manager Walt Weiss picked Option B, setting up Desmond to punish yet another free pass. And when Scahill looped a first-pitch curveball over the plate, Desmond blistered a shot down the left-field line for a go-ahead, bases-clearing double.

The hit made Desmond 11-for-16 (.647) with 16 RBI in his career when the previous batter is walked intentionally, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It’s certainly a small sample, but an impressive one nonetheless.

“I just try to do the same thing I do every other time,” Desmond said. “And it’s just a good situation to hit in — bases loaded, less than two outs — that’s what you’re looking for.”

Indeed, Desmond has feasted in those spots as well.

With the bases full this season, he has gone 6-for-6 with a double, a home run and 14 RBI. In 61 career plate appearances in those situations, he has posted a line of .444/.377/.611, with three doubles, two home runs and 54 RBI, including seven sacrifice flies. Among active players with at least 50 bases-loaded plate appearances, Desmond’s batting average ranks first.

Always an aggressive hitter, Desmond certainly has been a free swinger with the bases packed, never drawing a walk. In his six chances this season, he has seen a total of 14 pitches.

But Desmond said that regardless of the situation, he doesn’t walk up to the plate with any additional motivation to do damage.

“If you need any extra boost at this level, you’re not where you’re supposed to be,” he said. “None of us are up there hoping for an extra boost or an extra edge or anything like that. I’m trying to do my best when there’s nobody on or when the bases loaded, or intentional walk or not.”

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Nats’ Harper back in lineup

By Bill Ladson

WASHINGTON — The Nationals activated outfielder Bryce Harper from the 15-day disabled list ahead of Monday night’s game against the Rockies. He will be in the lineup playing left field and hitting sixth.

“I’m excited. I come in here and I’m able to get back out there for a team that is in contention,” Harper said. “It’s a lot of fun. I’m excited to be back.”

Harper hasn’t played a Major League game since April 25, when he tore an ulnar collateral ligament in the left thumb while sliding headfirst into third base against the Padres. A little over two months later, Harper said he is not going to change his running style. He plans to slide into the bases headfirst and feet first.

“Sliding headfirst is what I’m comfortable doing. I’m going to keep doing it,” Harper said.

Before he was activated, Harper played five Minor League games this past week and went a combined 9-for-14 [.643] with four home runs and 10 RBIs for Class A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. His best game was on Saturday, when he hit three home runs for Harrisburg. Harper had the day off Sunday.

“I felt good at the plate,” Harper said. “That’s the only thing I really cared about. I cared less about being on base or in the outfield or anything like that. It’s always a process. With my swing, I felt pretty good. It was where I needed to be. I’m very excited to come back and hopefully help this team win.”

With Harper coming back to the Major Leagues, it means that Ryan Zimmerman will go from left field to third base, while third baseman Anthony Rendon will return to second base. Danny Espinosa will return to the bench.

Harper said Zimmerman should stay in left, while Rendon should stay at third.

“Rendon is a great third baseman and should be playing third and we have one of the best [defensive] second baseman in Danny Espinosa,” Harper said. “Of course you want the best hitting lineup in there. I think Rendon playing third and Zim playing left is something that would be good for this team.”

It will be interesting to see how this new arrangement works out, as Zimmerman, who has won a Gold Glove at third, said recently that he is more comfortable in left field and that Rendon is the best man to play third base. Rendon has been playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at third.

“Going out to left field gave us the best chance to win. It’s a good problem to have. Too many good players and not enough spots,” Zimmerman said recently. “I’ll see what happens. I’m pretty comfortable in left and I think Anthony is a hell of a third baseman. I think there is no doubt right now he is better over there than me. But you have to have your best players in the lineup somehow. Whatever [manager] Matt [Williams] needs me to do, that’s what I’ll do.”

As one source said, “the team needs to get better offensively.”

Harper improves a lineup that has been sputtering since he went on the disabled list. During Harper’s absence, the Nationals hit .237 with a .304 on-base percentage. The team also went 30-27 during his absence.

Harper is expected to balance a lineup that was mostly right-handed. Harper and Adam LaRoche and Denard Span are expected to be the left-handed hitters in the lineup.

“Just his mere presence in the lineup is going to be huge,” an American League scout said about Harper’s return. “I think [the Nationals] will become even better because you have to respect Harper’s bat. [When] you have Wilson Ramos [behind the plate], the Nationals should be clicking on all cylinders.”

One baseball source also said that some of the starting players will rotate on occasion. Not only will Zimmerman play third base, he will continue to see playing time in left field and at first base. Harper could see time in all three outfield spots, while Span and Jayson Werth could get days off.

With Harper back on the team, the Nationals optioned Xavier Cedeno to Triple A Syracuse.

Nats’ LaRoche was ready to pitch

MILWAUKEE — After the Nationals defeated the Brewers, 4-2, in a 16-inning marathon Tuesday night at Miller Park, Nationals manager Matt Williams said had the game remained tied going into the bottom of the 16th, first baseman Adam LaRoche would have made his Major League debut as a pitcher.

The last time LaRoche pitched in a professional game was in 2003, when he was with Double-A Greenville, a Braves affiliate.

“I was ready” LaRoche said. “It’s about the 10th time I’ve been like an out or two away from being the next pitcher. Right before that, we scored.”

LaRoche was pumped when he received that word late in the game he was going to pitch.

“I have to be little crafty now. I can’t blow them away like I used to,” he said.

 

Williams: ‘Desmond and Werth need day off’

By Bill Ladson

WASHINGTON – After Sunday’s 4-1 victory over the Braves, Nationals manager Matt Williams acknowledged that shortstop Ian Desmond and right fielder Jayson Werth needed a day off during the team’s road trip, which starts Monday.

Both players are currently in slumps. During the four game series against Atlanta, Desmond went 2-for -16 [.125] with 10 strikeouts.  In the last two games combined, Desmond struck out six straight times.

“It’s a long road trip, a very tough couple of games against the Astros and all the expectations of this series [against the Braves]. Guys get mentally tired. So to answer your question, [Desmond] needs a day,” Williams said.

Werth is 4-for-37 in his last 10 games and has seen his batting average dip to .271. On June 12, Werth was at .296.

“We need to look long and hard about Jayson. We’ll spend a couple of hours on the plane talking about that one,” Williams said.

Nats’ Zimmerman prefers to play left field

By Bill Ladson

WASHINGTON — With Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper expected to be activated from the disabled list by July 1st, manager Matt Williams announced that left fielder Ryan Zimmerman would be moving back to third base, while Anthony Rendon would make the switch from third to second base.

There isn’t any talk about trading a player like Denard Span to make room for Zimmerman and Harper. But after Sunday’s 4-1 victory over the Braves, Zimmerman sounded like a guy that didn’t want to go back to third base. He seems comfortable in left field and he reiterated that Rendon is the best person to play third.

Because of a bad right shoulder, Zimmerman knows he has to play a couple of different places in order to help the team win. Besides third and left field, Zimmerman has also seen time at first base this year. While the team is on the road, Zimmerman will work out at third base. As a third baseman, Zimmerman can no longer throw overhand to first base because of the pain in his shoulder. To avoid pain, he has to throw sidearm.

“Going out to left field, gave us the best chance to win. It’s a good problem to have. Too many good players and not enough spots,” Zimmerman said. “I’ll see what happens. I’m pretty comfortable in left and I think Anthony is a hell of a third baseman. I think there is no doubt right now he is better over there than me. But you have to have your best players in the lineup somehow. Whatever [manager] Matt [Williams] needs me to do, that’s what I’ll do.”

Zimmerman admitted that he has a lot to learn as far as playing the outfield, but he is still having fun out there.

“It’s fun out there. It has taken some of the burden off of what I was feeling at third base,” Zimmerman said.

Asked if he would be having fun playing third base, Zimmerman said, “If we continue to win, yeah. Winning makes everything fun. The last couple of years have been tough. Unfortunately, it is what it is. I don’t know what we can do to make it better. The only way to find out is just to see what happens.”

Source: Harper to begin rehab assignment Monday

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will begin a Minor League rehabilitation assignment at Class A Advanced Potomac on Monday, according to a baseball source. The club has not confirmed that schedule, however, and manager Matt Williams said on Saturday that he wasn’t aware that was the plan.

“I heard a vicious rumor going around that he’s going out Monday,” Williams said. “Is that his plan? I don’t know, because nobody’s told me. But sometime during the next road trip, he’ll go out. He did some early work today — no hitting today. We don’t have anything on the field tomorrow as of right now, so he won’t get back on the field tomorrow, either. I’m sure he’ll hit in the cage tomorrow and then see how he feels and then make a decision.”

After finishing their home series against the Braves on Sunday, the Nats will begin a seven-game trip in Milwaukee on Monday. Their next home stand will begin June 30 against the Rockies, with Harper potentially returning from the disabled list during that eight-game block.

Harper hasn’t played since April 25, when he suffered a torn ligament in his left thumb. Williams said he likely will play about seven rehab games, starting with five innings in the field and two at-bats. He will see time at all three outfield positions and also serve as a designated hitter at least once.

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Nats bullpen strong again, but eventually snaps

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — Nationals relievers came into Friday with a 2.56 ERA that ranked first in the Majors, and after Drew Storen surrendered a leadoff double to the Braves’ Tommy La Stella in the seventh inning, the bullpen set down the next 18 in a row.

That performance set the stage for Washington to rally and send the game into extra innings, but eventually, manager Matt Williams found himself backed into a corner.

When the 13th inning rolled around, Williams already had used Storen, Craig Stammen, Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Jerry Blevins. His options at that point were to send Blevins out for a second frame, use rookie Aaron Barrett for a fourth consecutive day or turn to Ross Detwiler, who threw 45 pitches on Wednesday and has allowed 16 runs and 35 baserunners in his last 16 2/3 innings. As such, Williams admitted he felt he needed to stick with Blevins.

“You could go to Barrett four days in a row, but that’s dangerous,” Williams said.

A second inning probably wasn’t ideal for Blevins, either. The lefty had allowed a run on three hits in two-thirds of an inning on Thursday, throwing 18 pitches and taking a comebacker off his knee. He then used another 12 pitches during a 1-2-3 12th inning on Friday.

Blevins issued a leadoff walk to B.J. Upton, then gave up two consecutive hits and eventually two runs. Still, he didn’t offer any excuses.

“Everybody’s tired,” he said. “We’re in the 13th inning. Their guys have been going the whole time our guys have. Gotta step up, but I didn’t get the job done. Gave up a couple runs, didn’t get it done.”

Looking ahead, the bullpen could be in some trouble for the rest of the series if it needs to soak up significant innings. Blevins and Stammen both have worked on consecutive nights, while Clippard, Soriano and Barrett have pitched in three out of four. That leaves Storen and Detwiler as the freshest arms available, barring a roster move.

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

 

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