Zimmerman returns to Nats; Taylor optioned

June 29th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals activated first baseman Ryan Zimmerman from the injured list prior to Friday night’s 3-1 win against the Tigers, putting their already red-hot lineup back at full strength. Zimmerman has been sidelined since April 27, missing 53 games with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, an injury he called one of the most frustrating of his career.

“To feel as good as I felt, the rest of my body and the way I feel now, to miss this much time for basically a right heel is tough,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman started as the Nationals’ designated hitter at Comerica Park to help ease his way back into action -- and singled in his first at-bat -- but his return creates a bit of a log-jam on the right side of the infield.

Matt Adams, who was not in the starting lineup Friday night, has been swinging a hot bat recently while serving as the club’s primary first baseman in Zimmerman’s absence. He’s homered in back-to-back games and in his last 10 games he is slugging .757 with six homers. Howie Kendrick, who is in the midst of a career year at the plate, has been splitting time at first and second base with Brian Dozier, who is also swinging a hot bat this month.

So, it will be interesting to see how Zimmerman fits in. Prior to the injury, he was batting .213/.302/.373 in 22 games, and had taken most of the reps as the team’s starting first baseman. However, Zimmerman acknowledged the possibility of a reduced role on Friday and said he was open to it.

“I just want to win games. That’s the point where I’m at,” Zimmerman said. “They’ve been doing an awesome job, just happy to be part of that and contribute any way I can. You guys know me, I’m not going to demand anything. Just happy to be back, happy to be healthy, happy to contribute any way I can. I like to think of it as just another weapon we have now that can help us win games.”

Nationals manager Dave Martinez did not reveal much about his plans for Zimmerman’s playing time going forward, but said he believes Zimmerman can still be an everyday player at age 34 and now two years removed from the last time he played anywhere near a full season. That will make keeping Zimmerman on the field for the rest of the season Martinez’s primary goal.

“He's the kind of guy that can carry us,” Martinez said. “He comes back and starts swinging the bat and is a good defender, we'll just have to play it out and see what happens. But the biggest thing, like I said, is get him out there, get him feeling comfortable, get him at-bats and then we'll see how things work out.”

Taylor optioned to Double-A

Following the 2017 season, Michael A. Taylor looked poised to become a fixture in the Nationals outfield. He was coming off a career year -- 19 home runs, an .806 OPS and 3.1 Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs -- hit a crucial grand slam during Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Cubs, and homered and drove in four more runs in the decisive Game 5.

The past two seasons have not gone as smoothly for Taylor. His performance at the plate has regressed and his playing time has become sporadic. And on Friday, the Nationals optioned Taylor to Double-A Harrisburg to clear room for Zimmerman and give Taylor an opportunity to play every day.

Although he spent a week on the IL, Taylor has only received 85 plate appearances this season and was batting .211/.277/.276 while striking out a career-high 37.6% of the time. Taylor attempted to make some swing changes during the winter, even going to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic, and the Nats hope getting him regular at-bats will allow him to make some of those adjustments.

“We just need Michael to go play,” Martinez said. “Because if any one of these everyday guys gets hurt, he needs to step up here and come up and jump right in. So, it was just about getting him everyday at-bats and getting him to swing the bat and just playing the game.”