If we were to say to you back in December that both Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Bell would be a great pair at first base, many of you might have laughed at us. Honestly, we would have laughed at ourselves. However, this Spring Training proved that maybe Mike Rizzo pulled off another great trade to set up an amazing platoon at first base.
During Spring Training, these two players have been lights out every game, hitting massive homers and driving in many runs. This should be welcome news to all fans of the Washington Nationals, who had just 11 home runs combined from first baseman last season. Ryan Zimmerman is coming off a year where he sat out due to COVID concerns and hasn’t played baseball since the Nationals won the World Series. Josh Bell played last year, but is coming off a bad 2020 where he hit a career-worst .226 with only eight homers and 22 RBI, while striking out 59 times.
Earlier this week, during the Nationals v. Astros game, Mark Zuckerman from MASN Sports shared a stat that caught my attention. According to Zuckerman, “The combined spring training stats for Josh Bell and Ryan Zimmerman are: .434 AVG (23-for-53), 7 2B, 9 HR, 22 RBI, .508 OBP, 1.075 SLG, 1.683 OPS.” Yeah, that’s pretty impressive! Hopefully, it will continue throughout the season. Either way, this new platoon at 1B is looking ready for the start of the season.
The year off for Ryan Zimmerman has done wonders for the 15-year veteran and leader of the Nationals. During Spring Training, Zimmerman has a batting average of .445, with a slugging percentage of .436 and an OPS of .756 in eight games and 24 plate appearances. Zimmerman has 10 hits, including five home runs and has had 13 RBI with only five strikeouts. Granted, this is just Spring Training and a small sample size. However, Baseball Reference is projecting that Zimmerman will hit eight home runs with 30 RBI, a .246 batting average, .436 slugging percentage and a .756 OPS in 219 plate appearances.
Zimmerman himself even realizes that Spring Training isn’t necessarily an indicator of what is to come during the regular season.
In a Zoom call with reporters on Friday, March 26, 2021, Zimmerman said: “I think the goal of Spring Training is to get your body into shape and playing in games, and things that you can’t do on your own in the offseason, to stay healthy, and to be ready to go when the regular season starts. Whether I hit five home runs, zero home runs, or 10 home runs, it doesn’t really change my confidence going into the regular season.
Manager Dave Martinez has even noticed the performance of Zimmerman during Spring Training: “He’s squaring balls up right now,” manager Davey Martinez said after Zimmerman hit two home runs in a game this week. “He’s only got 20-21 at-bats, but it seems like every time he swings, he’s hitting the ball hard, which is good. He understands his role. He’s going to play part-time, we’re going to use him off the bench, but what he’s doing right now is awesome. And if he can continue to do that, we’re going to have a really good year and he’s going to have a really good year.”
According to Baseball Reference, Bell is projected to also have a monster season with 23 home runs and 79 RBI in 562 plate appearances. The site projects the former Pirates slugger will finish with 124 hits, a .255 batting average and an .804 OPS.
During a press conference with reporters on March 21, Josh Bell’s new manager Davey Martinez talked about Bell’s approach to batting during spring training and what the new Nationals first baseman needs to focus on during the 2021 season. “For us, and we talk about this all the time, he has to be on time every pitch… So the biggest thing for him, and K-Long tells him, is to always be on time. Be ready to hit the fastball and be on time, and you’ll put a good swing on every pitch.”
In a recent post-game interview with the press, Bell admitted that he watched and discussed hitting with Juan Soto and has learned some important tips from the 2020 NL Batting Champ. “This guy[Soto] has had so much success. I want to say one of the first conversations that I had with him was just asking his approach, and he said, ‘Fastball right down the middle every time.’ His best fastball, whether it’s 95 or 105, if he’s ready for that right down the middle and he can take that ball to left-center field, he’s ready for all other pitches. So I just put that in my back pocket, that’s easily the best left-handed swing in the game, so I’m trying to mirror [that] myself, think that way as well and hopefully have success.”
(Related Article: Perspective: Looking ahead to 2021: What does Nationals success look like?)
The willingness of an older veteran like Bell to gain insight from the 22-year-old Soto is unusual. Bell is six years older and has been in the league since 2014, when Soto was only 16-years-old. The Nationals are excited for the two sluggers to work together. Martinez highlighted the fact: “The conversations with him are awesome,” Martinez said. “Because he’s always engaged in every conversation. And he watches. He watches everything. We had a conversation last night, about how he’s watching Soto and his routine and learning from Juan Soto. For me, from a guy that’s coming from a new team, to join us, for him to say that about a 22-year-old, and that he’s learning things from a 22-year-old, is pretty impressive. And it’s pretty impressive that it doesn’t matter who it is, that he wants to continue to learn and get better.”
Mike Rizzo and the Washington Nationals and their fans hope that both Bell and Zimmerman’s spring training success carries over into the regular season. If it does, Rizzo will look like a genius with this latest platoon at first base.
Edited by: Jonathan Mailloux
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