- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2014

It was Bryce Harper’s night and a big crowd came out to Nationals Park on a Monday in part to snag one of his bobble head dolls.

But the man who already switched positions once with Harper out of the lineup - and did so again upon his return - was the real star in a 7-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies.

Ryan Zimmerman has never craved the attention that just seems to find Harper. He prefers to operate in the shadows even if that’s a quixotic goal for a player who has been with the Nats longer than any other. But there he was against Colorado - a single in the second inning, a double and a run scored in the fourth, an RBI double in the sixth.

Zimmerman’s offense really isn’t the concern, of course. With Harper back, that meant a return to third base, the position Zimmerman once played brilliantly. But that was before his arthritic throwing shoulder made every play a guessing game.

“It’s definitely going to take some adjustment,” Zimmerman said. “I still have a lot of work to do to get to where I want to be, but I felt okay.”

Indeed, there were no issues on Monday. Zimmerman even gave us a glimpse of his old self, snagging a Charlie Blackmon liner inches off the dirt and winging a throw to Adam LaRoche at first base for a double play. If the arm strength isn’t there, the reflexes and hands still are. Up 6-2 at the time, Zimmerman’s play killed a Rockies rally and helped seal the game for Washington. He made no issue of moving back to third after spending his time recently in left field with Harper on the disabled list after thumb surgery in late April.

“Like I’ve said all along, most of the guys in here, all of the guys in here, are going to do whatever it takes to win,” Zimmerman said. “If that means having a day off, and nobody likes to take days off, but honestly days off are nice sometimes even if you don’t want them. If we want to continue to win games and do what we think we should do, those days off now might help you later in the season when we really need them. It’s going to be a tough job for Matt, but I think it’s a good problem to have too many players and not enough spots. We’ll see. Usually things like that work themselves out, but as long as we keep winning I think everything will be fine.”

That contrasted with Harper’s comments before the game when, asked about the job Zimmerman had done switching positions, he instead said his ideal lineup would have Zimmerman stay in left, Anthony Rendon at third, his natural position, and Danny Espinosa remain at second, where he has excelled defensively.

That’s not an outlandish opinion, though probably one Harper should have left alone. Intentional or not, it could be perceived as a slap at veteran center fielder Denard Span. Harper in that scenario would be the man taking over in center. After the game, shortstop Ian Desmond was asked if the Nats were equipped to handle multiple players in roles they’d ideally avoid. He was not asked about a specific teammate. The question applied as equally to Zimmerman, Rendon and Espinosa as Harper. But Zimmerman was the one Desmond pointed to. He has handled an awkward situation with as much grace as he can muster. That doesn’t go unnoticed.

“Well, when the cornerstone of your organization accepts it and does it, it makes it hard for anybody else not to,” Desmond said.

Zimmerman himself just completed his first full month back after breaking a finger sliding into a base in Atlanta on April 12. And he needed a night like this. In June he batted .190. His on-base percentage was .268. His OPS was .568. That’s untenable for a team with postseason aspirations. The Nats need more from him, at the plate and in the field. They got it on Monday night.