WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — After 1,119 major league games at third base and one at shortstop, Ryan Zimmerman arrived at the ballpark Tuesday listed as an outfielder, playing left and batting fifth in the posted lineup for the Washington Nationals in their series opener against the Philadelphia Phillies.
“Obviously there’s an adjustment playing a different position, but I feel pretty comfortable,” Zimmerman said before the game. “Time will tell how well I actually do in the games up here, but I feel I can do well enough to help us win and not really stick out.”
He was out there because his throwing shoulder is a mess, because the Nationals need his bat, because regular left fielder Bryce Harper is on the disabled list, and because the franchise has a solid alternative at third base with up-and-comer Anthony Rendon.
Still, it looked a bit weird. Fortunately, for Zimmerman, he had time to adjust to the idea during his 44 games on the DL with a broken right thumb. He was reinstated early Tuesday.
“At first, just like anything, you’re a little hesitant,” he said. “You don’t want to learn a new position. You don’t want to do anything like that. But any other guy in this room would do whatever it takes to win, and I think all of us realize you don’t have unlimited amounts of years to have a team like we have right now.”
Zimmerman won a Gold Glove in 2009 and fielded his position as well as anyone for several years until chronic shoulder problems began to take their toll. He made 19 errors in 2012 and 21 last year as routine grounders became hold-your-breath adventures because there was no telling where the throw would end up.
“The last couple of years at third have been tough, mentally, physically,” he said. “I’ve had to really grind it out.”
Because of the nature of his thumb injury, Zimmerman could only shag flies early in his rehab. That gave the Nationals a chance to contemplate him as a fill-in for Harper, who is out at least another month after surgery on the left thumb.
“I don’t think Zim’s an outfielder,” manager Matt Williams said. “I think he’s a great athlete, and I think he can do a fine job out there. It’s what I think collectively we need right now.”
The Nationals, treading water around the .500 mark and struggling as a team at the plate in recent weeks, will tolerate a misplayed ball or two if Zimmerman’s swing returns quickly. He was hitting .364 with two home runs and six RBIs in 10 games before his latest injury.
Williams said Zimmerman will play left filed “the majority of the time, probably” until Harper returns. The manager didn’t rule out using Zimmerman at third base or first base over the next few weeks, depending on how the experiment is going. Left unanswered is the plan for Zimmerman once the Nationals have their full lineup healthy.
“We have to make sure that we clarify that it’s not necessarily a position change,” Williams said. “It’s an interim basis until Harp gets back.”
Because he doesn’t own an outfielder’s mitt, Zimmerman has borrowed one from teammate Jayson Werth. Zimmerman broke it in while playing left field in three of four rehab games with Single-A Potomac.
“I feel like I’m athletic enough to at least blend in and not cause problems,” he said.
NOTES: To make room for Zimmerman, the Nationals optioned INF-OF Tyler Moore to Triple-A Syracuse. … Williams said LHP Gio Gonzalez, on the 15-day disabled list with an inflamed pitching shoulder, will make a rehab start with Single-A Potomac on Friday.
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