During Saturday night’s Nationals-Braves game, Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman broke his thumb on a pickoff play at second base. He’ll be out four to six weeks, and while the injury is a tough loss for the Nationals, it may end up helping them delay a decision that appears to be inevitable.
Last week, Washington manager Matt Williams revealed that Zimmerman had an arthritic shoulder – something you never want to hear about a player you have nine figures invested into, especially when that player is a third baseman and needs to make long throws on a daily basis. With Zimmerman now out with a thumb injury, maybe the time off can help him rest his shoulder even just a little bit heading in to the summer. He’ll need every day of rest he can get, especially considering the Nationals are motivated to play deep into October.
Furthermore, Zimmerman being banged up lets Williams start a more optimal defensive lineup by shifting Anthony Rendon to Zimmerman’s position at third and plugging Danny Espinosa in at second, which is exactly what happened on Saturday after Zimmerman exited in the fifth inning.
The ideal plan was to plug Zimmerman in at first base while starting Rendon and Espinosa, but that wasn’t much of an option because of Adam LaRoche’s contract (which expires after 2014, barring the exercising of a $15 million mutual option for 2015). The situation was complicated because of LaRoche’s hot hitting (.317/.429/.512 going into Sunday), and Williams would be flogged if he benched his first baseman in the midst of a solid stretch like that.
Sure, the Nationals will lose some offense essentially going from Zimmerman (.364/.405/.636 this season) to Espinosa (.316/.381/.474 in just 21 plate appearances), but when you consider the improvement in their defense and the rest that Zimmerman’s shoulder will be getting, are they really worse off?
Obviously, Zimmerman getting hurt isn’t a *good* thing – but it helps the Nationals avoid making some potentially uncomfortable decisions until further down the road. Kicking the can down the road is never a good strategy, but in this case for Washington, it might be the best possible outcome for them.