by Chris Lingebach

WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — Nationals manager Matt Williams will stick with Rafael Soriano as the team’s closer, who earned his fifth blown save of the season Monday night, with Williams insisting Soriano simply needed rest.

Soriano still has 29 saves on the season, but gave up three runs and Washington’s lead in the ninth inning of a 4-2 game against the Pirates while pitching for the fourth time in five days, two nights ago.

“He was five-of-six, you know, Clipp was six games out of seven days, Thornton’s been up and throwing and he’s been in three-of-six, so you get in those stretches like that and the back of the bullpen can get really, really taxed,” Williams said in his weekly appearance with the Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday morning.

“So it’s nice to give guys a couple of days off. Stras was huge last night,” he said.

Strasburg pitched eight innings of 3-hit ball in the Nationals’ 8-1 victory over the Diamondbacks Tuesday night.

“We get in the lead, we get in a save situation tonight, as an example, Sori will get the ball,” Williams acknowledged. “And go out there and shut ’em down, and if we have that lead, hopefully we’ll be able to win that game. But yea, I’m giving him the ball. He’s been fantastic for us all season. And we have to continue to do that.”

On the idea raised by Cal Ripken Jr. — of possibly running Soriano out on lower pressure one-out or two-out save opportunities, to let him get his rhythm back — Williams said a decision like that would be solely dependent on matchups, while remaining steadfast in defending his closer.

“Well, it depends on a matchup,” he said. “If we get into the ninth inning with a lead and we’ve got a tough matchup — let’s say we have a couple of lefties and then a righty — you could certainly think about doing something like that.”

“But guys that are in the bullpen, generally, third day in a row, fourth day in a row, is difficult,” Williams added. “And in the case with Sori, he’s been five-of-six and a lot of pitches, so it’s nice to give him rest, and let their arm heal up a little bit, let them feel a little bit stronger. Listen, if we’ve got the lead in the ninth, I’m gonna give the ball to him. And the next time he goes out there and completes that save, then all of this is over with.”

Bryce Harper’s baserunning

Williams also gave some easing commentary on Bryce Harper’s continually troublesome baserunning. Harper got himself caught up between first and second, after leading of the fifth inning of the Nats’ 5-4 extra-innings win over Arizona on Monday. He also leads the Nationals in TOOTBLANs this season.

“We talk about it. I was asked a question yesterday about it,” Williams said. “For me, it’s a young player trying to do something. It’s a part of his maturation process. He got out there and got caught, and then he was in no-man’s land.”

“I never worry about guys making mistakes, if they’re making it aggressively,” he said. “If you’re going first to third and you get thrown out, or if you’re trying to steal a base and you get thrown out, you can never worry about those things because they’re trying to do something to help their team win. That’s the same with Bryce. You guys know as well as anybody, the spotlight’s a little bit brighter on him, and that’s the way it’s gonna be. So we have a conversation about it, and he understands the game very well — he’s a very good student of the game — and so it’s a part of his process of maturing as a player.”

Ryan Zimmerman’s recovery

Lastly, Williams said there’s still no timetable for the return of Ryan Zimmerman, who hit the Disabled List for the second time this season with a grade-three right hamstring strain in late July.

“Zimm’s going through the process,” Williams said. “It’s slow, because you tear the muscle, then you gotta let it heal, then you gotta let it strengthen, and then you can start pushing it. But if you push it too soon, you never really recover.”

“We’ve got an AlterG Machine (anti-gravity treadmill), which is kind of a treadmill that takes some weight off of ‘ya; and he’s doing that, he’s strengthening, and that process will take some time,” he said. “So time frame, I’m not exactly sure. It depends on how he feels and how quickly he can strengthen it, but he’s on his way. He’s doing the process.”

Asked how he plans to work Zimmerman back into the lineup when he does eventually return, Williams said, “Well, you can’t argue with the way he produces, that’s for sure.”

“The issues that we may face is that, if it gets to be September, the minor league — the seasons are over,” he said. “So where do we find him at-bats? That’s the issue. To get ready to go. We’ll pick and choose, we’ll see how it is, and when he does come back, how he is as far as the injury goes, and what he can and can’t do, and we’ll make some adjustments there if we need to. But man, I want that bat in the lineup, for sure.”

You can find the audio here.


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