1st-base platooners Zim, Bell can't lift Nats

July 24th, 2021

BALTIMORE -- An Interleague matchup less than an hour away from Nationals Park provided manager Dave Martinez the opportunity to implement a lineup dynamic he has been interested in exploring: plugging first-base platooners and in the batting order at the same time.

“The guys at the top in front of them, if they get on, we’ve got two big bats behind them that could possibly drive in some runs for us,” Martinez said.

Martinez started Bell at first in the No. 4 spot and Zimmerman as the designated hitter in the No. 5 spot in a 6-1 loss against the Orioles at Camden Yards on Friday night.

“Because he’s been a role player this year, [Zimmerman] can play and DH and sit for two innings, three innings whenever and get himself going again,” Martinez said. “Whereas I think Bell -- because he’s so used to playing the field, coming back in more regularly -- it’s a little bit tougher for him just to sit around and DH and expect him to have those quality at-bats. So I just want to keep him in there. I talked to both of them about it, and Zim’s OK with it.”

Bell crushed a Statcast-estimated 448-foot solo home run in the fourth inning to give the Nationals their only run of the evening. He has gone yard in three of his last four games, including his 100th career dinger on Tuesday against the Marlins. Bell, who has increased his fielding percentage at first base to a career-best .998, was also assessed with his second error of the season for a missed catch.

“I think it’s good,” Zimmerman said of the combination. “Obviously, he’s been hitting the ball well lately. It’s nice for both of us to get in there, kind of create some depth to the lineup. We’ve got some guys out right now, so obviously to get us both in there is good for us.” 

Martinez hoped getting quality at-bats throughout the series for Zimmerman, who entered the day 2-for-23 in July, would “help get him going again” more so than pinch-hit appearances. This season, Zimmerman is hitting .264 as a starter compared to .147 as a pinch-hitter.

“I’ve got to get Zim to relax a little bit, get the ball up in the zone a little bit,” Martinez said. “He chased a lot of balls today … We’ve got to get him to start swinging at balls in the zone and being a little bit more selective. He’s a good hitter. I’ve always said that he’s a good pure hitter. He’ll get it going again.”

Zimmerman went 0-for-3 with a walk and three strikeouts on Friday, but he was pleased with working deep counts.

“I don’t feel bad up there, so I think that’s the good thing,” Zimmerman said. “Just got to keep going. You guys know, I get hot, and I’m a streaky hitter. I think tonight I had good at-bats, I just didn’t really have much to show for it.”

With two games remaining in the series, the Nationals will have more opportunities to see if their swinging first basemen can spark the offense.

“Those are two big bats in the middle of our lineup right now that we need,” Martinez said.