- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

ATLANTA — Try as they might, the fans sitting on the clubhouse floor were no match for the embedded scent from the night before.

The Washington Nationals’ clubhouse at Turner Field was still damp and smelled of celebration Wednesday afternoon. It was also a quiet place. Knowing they didn’t have to take batting practice, or, for many, play, players arrived later than usual. The backups who were in Wednesday’s lineup did work in the batting cage.

Manager Matt Williams began postseason roster discussions. Less than 24 hours after clinching, Williams talked with his staff about who might be part of the 25-man playoff roster. Much of that will depend on Ryan Zimmerman.

Zimmerman played five innings in the instructional league in Viera, Florida, on Wednesday. He had four hits in eight at-bats. Zimmerman played two innings at third base and three at first base as he continued to test the hamstring he tore in Colorado on July 22.

A decision about when Zimmerman returns to the Nationals can come as early as Friday. He will be the designated hitter Thursday then play seven innings in left field Friday.

“We have to get him back here at some point and get him in big league games and run him through everything,” Williams said. “For now, he’s down there getting at-bats.”

As Zimmerman’s workload increases, much of the big league roster saw a temporary reduction in work. Wednesday night, the Nationals fielded a lineup featuring seven players who played for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs at some point in the season. Blake Treinen replaced Gio Gonzalez as the starting pitcher. Tyler Moore, who had 76 at-bats coming into Wednesday, was the cleanup hitter.

Williams is cognizant of the need for rest with the end of the season so close. He also doesn’t want to get players out of sync.

Most regulars will be back in the lineup Thursday when a four-game series begins in Miami. The Nationals will be monitoring Adam LaRoche’s back and Jayson Werth’s right shoulder during the final 11 games of the season. Sept. 22 is a built-in day off. Sept. 26 a doubleheader is scheduled. That could well produce another lineup populated with backups for one of the games.

“It’s important for us to continue to play and have rhythm and timing and feel for the game,” Williams said. “This time of year, you take days off, and your body shuts down. You don’t want to give them too much, because it’s not good for them.”

The Nationals already began dialing down the work for their starters. In the first two games of the series against the Braves, Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark each pitched seven innings without throwing 100 pitches. Strasburg threw 90. Roark threw only 89. Regardless, each was removed from game.

Hard decisions await Williams. He said Wednesday that he expects Zimmerman to play “pretty regularly” when he returns. Again, Zimmerman will be an option in left field and at first and third base.

Former closer Rafael Soriano could be skidding his way off the postseason roster. His appearance Monday night in Atlanta — two-thirds of an inning, two hits, two earned runs and being pulled mid-inning — did little to improve his chances.

These decisions and circumstances are different than 2012. Then, the players said, they were almost surprised to make the postseason. This season, they drove to the National League’s largest division lead thanks in large part to the depth that will challenge the postseason roster builders.

“Came back this year, I think with a little more fire and knew we needed to start in March to make this thing happen,” LaRoche said. “We had one of the most consistent years I’ve ever been a part of as a team, with no real long droughts, no real long losing streaks.

“Seven months of hard work, it’s paying off. Get a little breather here, get some guys healed up, get ready to go.”

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