Matt Williams removed Ryan Zimmerman from last night’s game for defensive reasons

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Bryce Harper’s return to the Nationals outfield meant Ryan Zimmerman had to shift from left field back to third base, where he was once a standout defender and is now a huge question mark because of chronic shoulder problems.

And last night manager Matt Williams removed Zimmerman from the game with a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning for defensive reasons, putting into focus the third baseman’s throwing issues and what the Nationals are truly dealing with going forward.

Williams shifted Anthony Rendon from second base to third base, where he played regularly when Zimmerman was in the outfield, and brought Danny Espinosa off the bench to play second base.

Asked afterward about the move, Williams told James Wagner of the Washington Post: “At that point, we want our finest defense in there. We want to make sure that in a tight game like that we do that.”

For his part, Zimmerman called it “the right move” and added:

I’m still getting used to playing third again. Like I’ve said the whole time, Anthony has played the hell out of third base and Danny is one of, if not the best, defensive second basemen in the game. If we’re up late in the game, I have no problem doing that. I think it gives us the best chance to win.

So expect to see Zimmerman removed from games in the late innings regularly, which would have sounded crazy just a couple years ago and still seems a little bit weird considering he’s one of the Nationals’ building blocks and owed another $86 million through 2019.

Editor’s Note: Hardball Talk‘s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $25,000 Fantasy Baseball league for Thursday night’s MLB games. It’s $25 to join and first prize is $5,000. Starts at 7:05pm ET on ThursdayHere’s the FanDuel link.

Kris Bryant on Joey Votto: “He’s the best player ever … He’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

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The Cubs wrapped up a four-game series against the Reds at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 13-10 loss to split the set. They’ll match up again against the Reds next week for a three-game series in Cincinnati. That’s good news for Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, because that means he’ll get to see Reds first baseman Joey Votto some more.

As CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney reports, Bryant has grown quite fond of Votto. Bryant has already won a World Series ring, a Rookie of the Year Award, and an MVP Award, but he still looks up to Votto. According to Bryant, Votto is “the best player ever.” He added, ““He’s my favorite player. I love watching him. I love talking to him, just picking his brain. He gets a lot of (heat) about his walks and working at-bats and some people want him to swing at more pitches. But, gosh, I mean, he does an unbelievable job. You know that he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time he goes up there. It’s definitely a guy that I look up to and I can learn from.”

Bryant said that Votto is “a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

Bryant also explained how his approach changed by watching Votto. He said that in his rookie season, he was “swinging at everything.” Votto, however, is “aggressive, but he’s not going to swing at a pitch until he wants it.”

Indeed, in Bryant’s rookie season, he struck out in nearly 31 percent of his 650 plate appearances. This season, he has struck out in only 19 percent of his PA. His walk rate has also increased by more than 2.5 percent since his rookie campaign. Compared to last year, Bryant is down in HR and RBI, but his average is the same, his on-base percentage is markedly better, and his slugging percentage is only down by a minute amount.

Video: Daniel Descalso hits D-Backs’ third inside-the-park homer of the season

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Diamondbacks second baseman Daniel Descalso hit his team’s third inside-the-park home run of the season during Thursday’s 4-0 win over the Astros. In the top of the fourth inning, with the score 1-0 and the bases empty, Descalso ripped a 1-0, 83 MPH change-up to right-center field. The ball caromed off the wall, heading towards left field, which sent center Jake Marisnick on the chase. Marisnick tried to pick up the ball with his glove, but dropped it, which sealed Descalso’s destiny for an inside-the-parker.

It had only been five days since the Diamondbacks’ last inside-the-park home run. David Peralta hit one against the Cubs on August 12. Ketel Marte legged out his club’s first ITPHR on July 26 against the Braves.

As ESPN Stats & Info notes, the Diamondbacks have three as a team, which is amazing because the other 29 teams have hit seven combined.