Ryan Zimmerman hasn’t played since early May. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
TORONTO — It was more than a month ago that Ryan Zimmerman landed on the disabled list, pushed there by what was initially described as a back injury, then officially described as an oblique strain. Neither he nor the Nationals staff who spoke about the injury seemed concerned that it would linger, though all of them seemed determined to give him plenty of time to heal.
Now, almost five weeks later, Zimmerman is not taking batting practice with his teammates as he did in prior weeks. He can, of course, hit in the cage. His manager says he has not had a setback.
“He’s still doing his stuff. It’s just a very slow, progressing process,” Martinez said. “He’s still getting his work in.”
The Nationals planned to lose Zimmerman for a long period of time this season, learning from his recent injury history and investing in Matt Adams, who would be able to play every day should Zimmerman succumb. Adams left Friday’s game after taking a pitch off his left index finger, and did not play Saturday. He was not in the starting lineup Sunday, either, though his splint was gone and he was texting freely with both hands in the clubhouse. What greater endorsement of full health could one need?
Likely for more specific medical reasons, Martinez seemed optimistic Adams would not require a disabled list stint, nor need to miss much more time, though he did not say so explicitly. The Nationals have seen early injury optimism disappointed before.
“He’s doing better today,” Martinez said. “Hopefully things get better, and we’ll see where he’s at.”
Daniel Murphy will play first base in his absence for the second straight day. Murphy said after the game, in which he went 0 for 4, that he “isn’t having very good at-bats.” But against right-handed starter Sam Gaviglio, Martinez decided Murphy’s left-handed at-bats will be good enough, particularly on a day he is resting Adam Eaton to “get him off the turf.” Eaton played the field Friday night and served as the designated hitter Saturday.
Martinez also decided to give Bryce Harper a half day off Sunday by using him as the designated hitter. He said Saturday he wants Harper to swing a little less before games, as he thinks the 25-year-old is trying to work his way out of a slump, but is actually making things worse with repeated efforts. He said Harper won’t take many swings before Sunday’s game, and he hopes that will allow him to relax and start hitting again. Harper is hitting .163 in June, and struck out looking twice Saturday.
In other news, Erick Fedde will start Monday night’s game against the Yankees. That game will begin after the teams complete their suspended game, and the Nationals have not made pitching decisions about the half game. They have not announced a starter for Tuesday night’s series opener against the Orioles, either, though right-hander Jefry Rodriguez is on turn in Class AA Harrisburg, and seems the likeliest candidate.
Tip your cap. Get’em next time. Come back tomorrow ready to go. Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez talked after last night’s loss about Washington’s offense struggling to get anything going against Toronto Blue Jays’ right-hander Marco Estrada, who tossed 6 2⁄3 scoreless on the mound in the Rogers Centre, helping to hand the Nats their third shutout loss this week.
“[Estrada] mixed his pitches up,” Martinez said. “His changeup I think caught our guys by surprise, just as slow as it was, but still we had some pitches to hit we just didn’t hit them.
“I mean, really, if you look at it, we just couldn’t get nothing going.”
Martinez’s squad will need to get something going against the Blue Jays today if they want to avoid getting swept in Toronto…
Max Scherzer threw 75 strikes out of 108 pitches today. He had one walk and 10 K’s. Typical Scherzer. Except: Look at all the borderline pitches he *didn’t* get. And he still had that line! He is good. pic.twitter.com/rTuO93QXjt
Davey Martinez talked before Daniel Murphy’s first game off the Disabled List on Tuesday night in New York about taking advantage of the opportunity of playing under AL rules in Yankee Stadium and Toronto’s Roger Centre to work the 33-year-old infielder in slowly in Murphy’s first games back in the majors following offseason knee surgery and a 10-game rehab stint.
“We’ve talked to him, he feels good, and a good spot to put him in, let him DH and get at bats and see how he feels after today,” Martinez said.
He was asked at that point if he would be comfortable playing Murphy in the field if he did not have the luxury of using the DH spot.
“Yeah, he’s getting better each and every day,” Martinez said. “Right now we’ll worry about today and see how he feels, and we’ll go forth, come tomorrow see how he feels tomorrow.”
Murphy’s swing wasn’t right that first night, [ed. note – “Nats’ hitting coachKevin Long told Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic, ‘He did not look very good at all. His swing was not even close to where he needs it to be,’ after that first game.”] so the veteran infielder went right to the batting cages in Yankee Stadium after the game and was there late working on things and then back out on the field early on Wednesday to get in more swings, which Martinez said was actually a positive sign.
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
“If he’s got that much energy and that much to take extra swings, I think he’s feeling pretty good,” the first-year skipper told reporters.
“He stayed on his feet. Last night, as you heard, he hit for a while, and came out early today and hit. Today that’s a good sign that he’s actually healthy, feeling good.
“And I know he wants to get — he said his timing was a little off, and he wants to make sure he’s good to go today.”
Before the series opener with the Blue Jays, Martinez said he thought Murphy was ready to return to the field, but they thought it was better to stick to their plan to keep him the DH.
“Cause he says he’s ready to play the field. And I told him: ‘Look, we had a plan going into this week, so let’s stick to it. Let’s see how you feel today after your day off yesterday, and then we’ll go from there.’”
For the second of three in Toronto, the Nationals’ skipper made a decision to put Murphy back in the field, but at first base, where he played 211 games in his career, though he’d played in just 21 with the Nationals, all of them back in 2016.
“We talked a couple days ago and he said he felt like he was ready to play second,” Martinez said.
“And he’s played some first down in the minor leagues and he did well, so I talked to him last night and he was all for it.”
“It’s a lot easier than the middle of the field,” he explained, “… but he’s still got to run to first base a lot, but with Max [Scherzer] pitching being a fly ball pitcher, we thought it would be perfect for him to get out there and test it out.”
Murphy made it through what ended up a 2-0 loss to the Jays on Saturday without incident going 0 for 4 at the plate to leave him 1 for 15 since he’s returned.
“He had fun too over there. He told [Pedro Severino] — after the third out, Sevy went to fire the ball over there and [Murphy] came in the dugout and said, ‘Right now the game is a little quick, Sevy. So just keep the ball and go in the dugout.
“So it’s good to have him and [Adam] Eaton both back, and when they start rolling and they get hot, it’s going to be pretty fun.”
Scherzer (10-3) gave up four hits, including the two-run homer by Travis, in six innings. The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner struck out 10, increasing his major league-leading total to 152.
The right-hander, who lost to San Francisco in his previous outing, last lost two straight starts in a three-game skid in August 2015. Travis homered for the second game in a row when he connected in the fifth, right after Scherzer hit Luke Maile with a pitch.
Estrada (4-6) allowed three hits, one a bunt single, to win back-to-back starts for the first time this season. Toronto has won six straight at home after losing 10 of its previous 11 at Rogers Centre.
Trea Turner hit a two-out double in the sixth, but Estrada struck out Bryce Harper looking. An exasperated Harper was caught looking again to end the eighth, stranding a runner at first. Harper went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, dropping his average to .221.
Estrada left after Michael A. Taylor‘s two-out single put runners at first and second in the seventh. Danny Barnes came on and needed two pitches to retire Wilmer Difo on a groundout.
Barnes and Aaron Loup each got two outs and former Nationals closer Tyler Clippard finished the three-hitter for his third save in six opportunities.
Daniel Murphy will play in the field for the first time this season in the majors. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)
TORONTO — Not 24 hours ago, Nationals Manager Dave Martinez had it all planned out. He would let Daniel Murphy stay off his legs for the duration of the weekend, let him serve as the designated hitter and see how it all went. Then, a few hours later, Matt Adams tried to bunt. His left index finger did not survive the attempt unscathed. Murphy will play first base Saturday in Adams’s place, his defensive debut.
“We talked a couple days ago, and he said he felt like he was ready to play second. He played first in the minor leagues and did well,” Martinez said. “I talked to him last night, and he was all for it.”
Adams had X-rays on that finger, but it was inconclusive. Martinez said the finger is still swollen, and given the size of the bones in the area, Nationals staff could not get a good sense of the state of the finger. Doctors will look at the finger when the team returns to Washington, but Adams can already bend it, which is a good sign.
“He said he needed just a day,” Martinez said. “We’ll see where he’s at.”
Martinez could have chosen Mark Reynolds to play instead, but against right-hander Marco Estrada, Martinez chose to load his lineup with left-handed hitters instead. He put Murphy at first base. He will use Adam Eaton as his designated hitter, thereby giving his legs a break from the turf, something he hoped to do when he thought Adams would be available to provide some left-handed punch in the lineup. Reynolds has been struggling and is 3 for his last 41 after a hot start to his Nationals tenure.
Ryan Zimmerman has stopped taking batting practice with his teammates before games and has not fielded ground balls on the field yet this weekend in Toronto. Zimmerman has been out since early May with what is officially being called an oblique strain, and he seems to be doing less on-field activity rather than more — though no one with the Nationals has indicated anything more than “he is progressing” and that they are taking their time.
But with Zimmerman and Adams out, Murphy can ease back into defensive duties without having to cover as much ground as he would at second base. Wilmer Difo can play to his right and use his shortstop skill set to cover more ground. In fact, infield coordinator Tim Bogar met Murphy in the dugout before the game to tell him to keep an eye on Difo and adjust accordingly. The two have never had to work together in a game before, and Murphy assured him he looks over at the dugout for positioning advice before nearly every pitch.
The matchup also should be favorable to Murphy at first base; he will debut behind Max Scherzer, who is not a ground ball pitcher. Murphy has played 211 games at first base in his career, his second-most at any position besides second base, where he has played 763.
Adams went 3-for-4 with a run scored in Wednesday’s win over the Yankees.
His bat has been cooling down, as Adams was just 4-for-20 over his prior nine games coming into Wednesday, but his slash line on the season still stands at .276/.353/.579. Ryan Zimmerman (back) doesn’t yet have a timetable for his return, so Adams will continue splitting time at first base with Mark Reynolds for the Nats, although this weekend’s series in Toronto could give both players an opportunity to slot into the lineup at the same time with the DH available.