WASHINGTON -- Nate McLouth, still looking for his first hit as a member of the Nationals, got his second start of the season -- and first in the leadoff spot -- as manager Matt Williams continued to shake up his lineup on Thursday.
Williams said that there is nothing wrong with usual center fielder and leadoff man Denard Span, but with the Nats in an early stretch of 20 games in 20 days, the manager wanted to give Span a rest.
"We've got a stretch of games here with no off-day, so it's just a day [off]," Williams said. "Certainly have to get Nate in there and get him some ABs, too. No issues though. [Span's] good."
McLouth signed a two-year, $10.75 million deal this winter to serve as the Nats' fourth outfielder after logging nearly 600 plate appearances last season with the Orioles. He came into Thursday 0-for-5 with two walks, having made his first start on Sunday in the No. 7 spot in the lineup.
Meanwhile, Williams moved Bryce Harper from seventh in the order back to sixth after Harper broke out of a slump by going 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs on Wednesday.
So far this season, Williams has used eight different batting orders in nine games. He's yet to use the same one in back-to-back games.
Nats' taxed bullpen gets break in series finale
WASHINGTON -- When Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann lasted only 1 2/3 innings in his start on Wednesday night against the Marlins, it put the club's bullpen in a tough spot. If Washington's relievers had needed to soak up significant innings again on Thursday, it would have forced manager Matt Williams into some difficult decisions.
Fortunately for the Nats, that didn't become an issue, as Stephen Strasburg was efficient in shutting down the Marlins over 6 2/3 strong innings of a 7-1 win. Jerry Blevins and Aaron Barrett -- the only two Nats relievers not to pitch on Wednesday -- followed Strasburg, and Rafael Soriano closed it out.
Long man Craig Stammen, who tossed 3 1/3 innings the night before, likely was unavailable for the game, according to Williams. Setup men Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard already had pitched two days in a row, and Williams also preferred not to use lefty Ross Detwiler for a second straight day.
In the event of a short start by Strasburg or a long extra-inning game, Williams would have considered turning to righty Tanner Roark as a long reliever, even though Roark is scheduled to start on Friday in Atlanta.
"We have the ability to go to Tanner, if we have to," Williams said before the game. "We hope that's not the case. If we do, he would be available potentially for us long if it gets to that. The best-laid plans are that that doesn't happen. [Soriano's] good. The back end of the bullpen is good. They're taxed, but they're good. But if it gets to a situation like we had yesterday, then our long guy today, we'd look to Tanner, potentially."
Had that become necessary, the Nats would have considered bringing an extra pitcher to Atlanta for Friday's series opener there. However, Williams said after Thursday's win that no roster move was in the works.
"We're good," the manager said. "We made it through today, and I think we'll be OK."
After remaining in the bullpen on Thursday, Detwiler still has not pitched in back-to-back games in his career. Before the game, Williams had sounded reluctant to use the converted starter in that way.
"We'd like to stay away from him if we could," Williams said. "But you don't know what's going to happen in the course of a game. So we'll evaluate that at the time. In a perfect world, I wouldn't want to get him in a game today, but you never know."
Detwiler, who has pitched five scoreless innings across three appearances this season, said that he would be ready to go on consecutive days, as long as he felt good after playing catch before the game.
"You just have to communicate," Detwiler said. "It's never, 'Oh, I'm good to go today.' You're always up until you tell them you can't go."
Back at third, Zimmerman works on sidearm motion
WASHINGTON -- Ryan Zimmerman was in the Nationals' lineup at third base for a second consecutive game on Thursday after sitting out on Tuesday with right shoulder soreness.
Manager Matt Williams was pleased with how Zimmerman looked in the field in his return, and he had no qualms about putting the third baseman back out there again in the series finale against the Marlins. For the second straight day, Zimmerman completed some early work at third base, utilizing a more sidearm motion designed to alleviate any pain in his surgically repaired shoulder.
"I thought he was good. Got challenged right away," Williams said. "No ill effects. He reported today that he felt good. We went through another session today out there and he's got no issues, which is good. So hopefully that little adjustment will take some pressure off the shoulder."
In the fifth inning of Wednesday's game, Zimmerman was faced with the type of play that his given him trouble, as Casey McGehee hit a grounder that forced him to back up, field the ball backhanded and make a long throw across the diamond. It appeared that Zimmerman was caught somewhere in between an overhand and sidearm release, and the result was an awkward throw that one-hopped first baseman Adam LaRoche, but it still was in time to get the runner.
Earlier in the game, Zimmerman looked smooth in moving to his left to cut off a slow grounder from Adeiny Hechavarria, spinning and whipping a strong sidearm throw to first.
"Pace of game, runner, all of that stuff will dictate what he wants to do," Williams said. "We're working on the routine. It's a function of his work, so going out taking ground balls, doing all the things he does every day, we just don't want to inflame [the shoulder] again, so we change a little bit of an angle. It's not that big of a change, but it just takes a little pressure off, so he can go ahead and get his work done, do all the things he wants to do without having any pain. And then instinct will take over in the game anyway."