Nats place Ryan Zimmerman on the DL

The storyline tonight will certainly center around Jayson Werth. How could it not? He is playing his former team for the first time and for some reason when a star player faces their former team for the first time, it always seems to grab headlines. It will be interesting to see how he is greeted by the Phillies’ faithful who make the trip down the I-95 corridor to Nationals Park, but the reaction will only be part of the story and only last about 10 seconds. Whether he is cheered or booed is all but irrelevant at the end of the day. The Nats play the Phillies 18 times a year—so Werth and the Phillies will have several encounters. This is the first of many—126 to be exact—games that Werth will face his former team as a member of the Nats. By game 10, people will probably have forgotten he was ever a member of the Phillies, with our current information highway, today’s story is tomorrow’s long forgotten history.

The more pressing and pertinent matter is how the Nationals will play the next few weeks without their prodigious third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He was placed on the DL today with a strained abdominal muscle, a nagging injury he dealt with in Spring Training and aggravated when sliding into second base on Saturday at Citi Field.

Since Zimmerman appeared in his first game on Sept. 1, 2005, the Nats are 347-500 (.410). The Nats are 306-446 (.407) in games that he has appeared in and 41-54 (.432) in games he didn’t appear in, either from an injury or just a day off. In 2008, Zim missed 55 games and the Nats posted a nearly identical winning percentage with him in the lineup and on the DL. In 2010, the Nats went 60-82 (.423) in games that he appeared in and 9-11 (.450) in games he didn’t appear in. This isn’t to prove that the Nats are a better team without Zimmerman—that would be nonsensical and akin to saying the Washington Mall would be better off without the Washington Monument. Zimmerman has been a member of the Nationals for about as long as the Nationals have been a part of DC. There is no question Zimmerman is a key component to the team and will be a vital piece to the building process—he is one of the top players in the League. They won nine games without him last season but the key questions is how many additional games would they have won if he played in those 20 games?

The team performance in Zimmerman’s absence just shows that a) when he goes down, someone usually steps up—Jerry Hairston Jr. and Alex Cora will get the majority of the starts at third base b) the Nationals have been able to fill the void left by Zimmerman for a short time and c) quality pitching when a player is injured is probably more important than who the replacement is for the injured player. The starting staff will need to continue pitching well in Zimmerman’s absence.

The Nats recalled Jesus Flores to replace Zimmerman on the 25-man roster. It was a surprising move in the sense that conventional wisdom predicted outfielder Roger Bernadina or utility infielder Brian Bixler to be recalled. This will allow Pudge or Wilson Ramos to be used off the bench as a pinch hitter without the Nats using their last catcher. The 26-year-old Flores was the Nats’ everyday catcher in 2009 before a foul tip struck him in the shoulder on May 9 in Arizona. He returned at the end of the season to pinch hit three times but never fully recovered until this season.

Below is a Nats lineup that you haven’t seen before tonight.

Phillies:

Shane Victorino – CF

Placido Polanco – 3B

Jimmy Rollins – SS

Ryan Howard – 1B

Ben Francisco – RF

Raul Ibanez – LF

Carlos Ruiz – C

Wilson Valdez – 2B

Joe Blanton – P

 Nationals:

Ian Desmond – SS

Rick Ankiel – CF

Jayson Werth – RF

Matt Stairs – 1B

Wilson Ramos – C

Laynce Nix – LF

Danny Espinosa – 2B

Jerry Hairston Jr. – 3B

Livan Hernandez – P

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