Zimmerman Heading to D.L. Spells Trouble for Washington

Steve O Speak

Ryan Zimmerman will head to the disabled list after straining an abdominal muscle in Saturday’s game. By placing him on the disabled list the Nationals will be without his services until Apr. 25th, meaning they will need to survive 12 games without him.

The injury couldn’t come at a worst time for the Nationals as they begin their first real homestand with 3 games apiece against the Phillies and the Brewers. The loss of Zimmerman is even more painful given the struggles of so many of the Nationals’ hitters thus far into the season. Zimmerman leads the Nationals in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage (Ramos has a higher batting average but in 19 less plate appearances) and without him this offense lacks a true weapon. Washington brought in Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche to help provide offense, but their OPS numbers are .705 and .596 respectively. LaRoche especially isn’t likely to pick up much slack as he is dealing with his own ailments and seems to be far less than 100%.

The rest of the offense isn’t fairing much better as Ivan Rodriguez and Rick Ankiel offer veteran leadership and defense, but haven’t done much of anything offensively. Last year’s surprise star Mike Morse is mired in a 4-27 slump, and has just a .398 OPS thus far into the season. Leadoff man Ian Desmond is 9 for his last 25, but he hasn’t shown great strike zone discipline with an 8-1, K to walk ratio. The Nats have gotten good production out of their two youngest players C Wilson Ramos and 2B Ian Desmond, but it’s not nearly enough with the rest of the lineup in shambles.

Making matters worst is the fact that the two players who are most likely to replace Zimmerman in the lineup, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Alex Cora, are a combined 1 for 19 in the early part of this season. And while both are useful utility players, their bats aren’t their calling card. This is why I think the Nationals should look to make a smart roster move and call up Brian Bixler.

Bixler was one of the Nationals best hitters during Spring Training, but he lost out due to the fact that he wasn’t on the Major League roster and that Cora and Hairston have far more experience. Now though Bixler could be the Nationals best choice as he offers better offensive potential than Hairston and Cora, and he would be another right-handed bat, on what is an exceedingly LH bench. Bixler has gotten off to a pretty quick start in AAA, with a .316 average, .381 OBP, .421 slugging percentage, in 4 games.

The one downside to Bixler is that he is not on the 40 man roster meaning a corresponding move would need to be made. Unless a quick trade of Jesus Flores, Craig Stammen or someone else occurs the Nationals would need to release someone to make room for Bixler. Of their 15 minor leaguers on the 40 man roster (including Henry Rodriguez), I see maybe one they might consider out-righting to make room for Bixler, and that is recent signing Lee Hyde. They only problem with that, is that Hyde was a smart pickup off waivers from the Braves as he is a lefty with decent career numbers. Washington could try to pass him through waivers, but I’d say it is 50-50 whether he makes it or not. Outside of Hyde I don’t really seen anyone that even has a prayer of making it through waivers.

This leaves, as I see it, three possible scenarios for the Nationals.

1. Cut Matt Stairs:

Stairs offers the Nats little in the way of positional flexibility, and zero speed, making him an option to get the ax if the Nationals need a roster spot. The downside of course is his veteran experience, especially as a pinch hitter that makes him so valuable. Considering how inept the Nats bench has been, I don’t know if it makes sense to cut a guy who has drawn 4 walks in his 6 plate appearances.

2. Offer Brian Broderick back to the Cardinals:

While given his early struggles Broderick probably isn’t too long for the Nationals 25 man roster anyways, but he was likely to go when Henry Rodriguez came back from his D.L. stint (which could be very soon). While you could bring up another reliever, for Broderick’s 25 man roster spot, you would lose Broderick outright. Although the Nationals probably don’t want to keep him on their 25 man roster, they might be interesting in working out a small trade with the Cardinals (likely just extra cash considerations), so that the Nats could keep him in their system.

3. Release Alex Cora:

While this seems more like a lateral move, since Cora is one of the players expected to replace Zimmerman, it probably makes the most sense. Bixler can handle Cora’s utility duties once Zimmerman returns, and he would add that RH bat to the bench to even it out. Cora also very well could pass through waivers and might be willing to play in AAA with the hopes that the Nats might need his services later in the season, so there is at least the chance you keep him in the organization.

Also, the move could allow the Nationals to shake up their bench a little bit and bring up Roger Bernadina for Zimmerman’s D.L. spot. This could allow Bernadina to help spell Morse in LF and Ankiel in CF, given some of their struggles. It also could be a prudent move given the uncertainty of Adam LaRoche’s health. If he needs a couple of days off, Morse could play 1B and Bernadina could play LF, which is a better offensive option than Hairston or Nix.


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