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.

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Mike Trout has a torn thumb ligament, could require surgery

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Yesterday Mike Trout left the Marlins-Angels game after hurting his thumb while sliding head first into second base. After the game the Angels talked about it as if it were just a sprain. Trout had an MRI today, however, and the diagnosis is far worse: he has a torn thumb ligament.

While a treatment option has not yet been chosen, surgery is a possibility. A certainty is that he’ll miss, at the very least, several weeks of play. He has been placed on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

Trout, the reigning AL MVP and, without question, the best player in baseball, is batting .337/.461/.742 with 16 home runs, 36 RBI, 36 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases in 206 plate appearances this season. Even with the one of the weaker supporting casts in baseball, Trout had the Angels near .500 and in at least arguable contention in the AL West.

Without him, they are likely sunk. Without him, baseball is worse off.

Basebrawl! Harper, Strickland punch away, Nats-Giants fight

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SAN FRANCISCO — Nationals slugger Bryce Harper and San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland both landed punches to the head during a wild brawl that erupted Monday after a hit by pitch.

Harper was hit in the right hip by Strickland’s 98 mph fastball in the eighth inning with Washington ahead 2-0.

Harper pointed the bat toward Strickland, charged the mound and fired his batting helmet wide of the pitcher. They started to swing away and they each connected as the benches and bullpens emptied.

At least two Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the brawl all the way into the dugout. Harper and Strickland were both ejected.

In the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland. After the star’s second shot, in Game 4, he stared at Strickland as he rounded the bases.