There will be days this season when Matt Williams, against his better judgment, has to rest his players. Few are able to make it through all 162 games; whether it's because of struggles or soreness, the dugout can be a respite from all sorts of ailments.
Several players learned this on Sunday. Bryce Harper, he of the .143 batting average and three hits in five games, was given a day to refocus. Ryan Zimmerman, until a pinch-hit appearance, was asked to rest his ailing right shoulder. Denard Span, a defensive replacement in the eighth inning, was granted a break to let others play.
"The hardest thing for a manager is to say, 'Well, we've lost the last two, but we have to get our guys in there,'" Williams said. "...I think, considering all of it, it actually worked well."
Behind right-hander Taylor Jordan, and yet another shuffled lineup, the Nationals salvaged their three-game series with the Atlanta Braves, avoiding a sweep with a 2-1 victory before 34,327 at Nationals Park.
Ian Desmond provided the go-ahead run in the seventh inning for the Nationals (4-2) with a solo home run – a shot to deep left center, over the visitor's bullpen, that emphatically ended a run of five hitless innings against Braves starter Alex Wood.
Jordan threw 89 pitches over 6 1/3 innings in his first start of the season, allowing six hits, walking two and striking out three. Jerry Blevins, who pitched an inning in relief of Jordan, picked up the win, and Rafael Soriano earned his first save – though not without a bit of drama with two outs in the ninth.
"Obviously, it's really early, and we did just lose two to the Braves, but we won one, and to come back and get a win right there was encouraging, especially going into the day off," Desmond said. "We've got a good team in Miami coming in next."
Anthony Rendon, who entered with a hit in each of the Nationals' first five games, extended that streak on the first pitch he saw when he bunted down the third base line for a single. Kevin Frandsen, starting in left field and playing in the outfield for the first time since 2010, pushed Rendon to second with a single of his own, and Jayson Werth also singled, allowing Rendon to score from second on an error by the Braves' Dan Uggla.
Wood, the first left-hander Washington faced all season, then kept things relatively quiet. Catcher Sandy Leon was the only Nationals player to reach base until Desmond's home run when Braves third baseman Chris Johnson overthrew a routine ground ball in the fifth.
Wood left the game after seven innings and 107 pitches, allowing only four hits and the two runs while striking out four. His only support came in the sixth, when Uggla drove in first baseman Freddie Freeman with a sacrifice fly to deep center field.
Soriano, in his second appearance of the season, sat down his first two batters before allowing singles to shortstop Andrelton Simmons and pinch hitter Ryan Doumit. Right fielder Jason Heyward battled, too, but struck out on a biting, 86 mph slider up and in to end the game.
Zimmerman, who aggravated his right shoulder in the Nationals' 6-2 loss to the Braves on Saturday, entered Sunday's game as a pinch hitter in the eighth, but he struck out on a foul tip. That may be the extent of his role over the coming days; though an MRI exam revealed no structural damage to the third baseman's throwing shoulder, according to Williams, the team will be careful with Zimmerman, whose issues now carry into a third season.
"It's been a tough two-and-a-half years, or however long it has been, but what can you do?" Zimmerman told reporters before Sunday's game. "You just have to keep working and trying to get through it."
Though Zimmerman began taking part in fielding drills at first base during spring training, Williams said he hasn't thought at all about moving him to the other side of the diamond.
A former third baseman himself, Williams tore the labrum in one of his shoulders during the 1996 season, precipitating a move to first base. He played 19 games there before being shut down and requiring surgery.
His experience leads Williams to think Zimmerman's inflammation may be the result of overuse, and the team may be able to help him out by giving him less of a workload.
"Maybe it doesn't involve as many throws," Williams said. "Maybe it involves cutting down the number of grounders he takes in pregame. ... We're gonna look at it again on Tuesday. Again, we can't curtail it right now, because we've got to make sure that he's good to go, and we'll do that when he feels good."
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