Cubs’ de­ci­sion to pitch to Harper ben­e­fit­ting Zim­mer­man, Na­tion­als

Lineup’s turn­around yields less walks

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY MATTHEW PARAS

Ryan Zim­mer­man gave Chicago Cubs man­ager Joe Mad­don credit.

The Na­tion­als first base­man was asked about Mad­don’s de­ci­sion to pitch around Bryce Harper last sea­son. The Cubs walked Harper an MLB-record 13 times, four in­ten­tional, dur­ing a fourgame se­ries in May 2016.

Harper reached base and the Cubs would get to Zim­mer­man, who was just 4-for-32 last year against Chicago. Na­tion­als pitcher Tan­ner Roark, at the time, called it “scared base­ball.”

“I think Joe’s a pretty smart man­ager,” Zim­mer­man said. “I think ev­ery­one would agree with me. I’m pretty sure he just looks at the matchups and the num­bers. And last year, the matchups fa­vored him, so he did what he was sup­posed to do. And I’m sure if the op­por­tu­nity arises this year, he’ll look at the num­bers again. And what­ever matchup gives him the best chance to suc­ceed, that’s what he’s go­ing to do.”

Against the Na­tion­als this year, Mad­don has aban­doned such a strategy — and the bats in the mid­dle of Wash­ing­ton’s lineup are the rea­son.

It starts with Zim­mer­man, who is hav­ing an MVP-like sea­son. Zim­mer­man en­tered Tues­day’s game with a .344/.645/1.029 split. Those stats are, by far, ca­reer highs and a dras­tic turn­around after last sea­son. Zim­mer­man bat­ted just .218 in 2016, giv­ing Chicago and other teams a rea­son to pitch around Harper.

Harper is cap­i­tal­iz­ing on the Cubs’ de­ci­sion to pitch to him. He went 3-for-5 on Mon­day.

“Last year is last year,” Harper said. “What­ever we’re do­ing this year, try to keep it go­ing. Zim’s done a great job for us. (Daniel) Mur­phy as well. I mean, one through eight, pick your poi­son. We’ve

got a great lineup. We lead the league in a lot of cat­e­gories, so it’s a lot of fun to go out there and be part of that lineup.”

Zim­mer­man still went 0-for-5 against the Cubs on Mon­day, but the Na­tion­als have plenty of hit­ters to give teams prob­lems.

It’s en­tirely pos­si­ble the Na­tion­als fin­ish the year with four play­ers hav­ing at least 100 RBIs or a .400 on-base per­cent­age. Zim­mer­man, Mur­phy and Harper all have at least 50 RBIs to date and An­thony Ren­don isn’t far be­hind with 47. All have an OBP of at least .380 and rank in the top 15 of the Na­tional League.

“Get­ting runs across the plate, I think it’s some­thing we don’t put enough im­por­tance on,” Na­tion­als man­ager Dusty Baker said. “We put a whole bunch of im­por­tance on on-base per­cent­age, but what good is on-base per­cent­age if you can’t drive home men?”

Baker, though, said he val­ued run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion more than ei­ther the 100 RBI mark or OBP. He won’t have to worry about that cat­e­gory, ei­ther. As a four­some, Harper, Zim­mer­man Mur­phy, and Ren­don are bat­ting .354 (99-for-279) with run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion.

Last year, the Cubs did pitch more di­rectly to Harper once Baker swapped Mur­phy for Zim­mer­man as the fourth­hit­ter in the lineup. But Harper was strug­gling as well, so it didn’t have the same ef­fect. After a three-game se­ries last June, Harper was bat­ting .249. Harper is bat­ting .333 this year. “He has that pro­tec­tion now that he had been want­ing,” Na­tion­als pitcher Gio Gon­za­lez said. “With Zim and Murph, ev­ery­body in that lineup, even (Brian) Good­win, gives him all that pro­tec­tion. You’re go­ing to have to pitch to him be­cause the guys be­hind him are do­ing re­mark­able, All-Star wor­thy stuff.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als first base­man Ryan Zim­mer­man was just 4-for-32 last year against the Chicago Cubs.

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