Column: Harper’s return creates a logjam for Williams

WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper was reinstated from the disabled list for Monday night’s game against the Colorado Rockies, allowing the Nationals to put their Opening Day lineup back again for the first time since that inaugural game on March 31.

“It’s nice to have everyone back and to get to write the names on the lineup that we had on Opening Day once again,” manager Matt Williams said as the Nationals opened a three-game series against the Rockies on Monday.

While Harper’s return is a welcome addition to the Nats’ lineup — he missed 57 games with a left thumb injury — it also presents a new challenge for Williams, who must now find playing time for all of the Nationals’ suddenly healthy players.

Harper started in left field in his return, with Ryan Zimmerman returning to third base and Anthony Rendon shifting to second base. That left Danny Espinosa as the odd man out. “It’s a difficult scenario because Danny has played really well,” Williams said. “He’s played through injury and getting hit in the knees and all kinds of things.

“His attitude has been fantastic and given that everyone is back now, it’s kind of the way we envisioned it — Anthony playing second base a little more, Danny getting in from time to time depending on the matchup.”

Espinosa has hit .277 against left-handed pitchers this season, with an .826 OPS, compared to .196 against right-handed pitching with a .560 OPS. But Espinosa was not in the starting lineup Monday against Rockies left-hander Yohan Flande. According to Williams, the Nationals’ lineup is a “fluid” situation that will vary day-to-day.

“Today’s lineup may change tomorrow,” Williams said. “I’m going to knock wood and say that everybody that is back now is back for the rest of the year. But if you look at what’s happened this season, we can’t count on that necessarily. That can change things.”

Williams said he hopes that a completely healthy lineup will offer a chance to sprinkle in a few more days off for Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. Desmond and Werth have had four days off between them, while LaRoche has played in 32 of 33 games since returning from injury May 25.

Should Werth be given a day off, it’s possible that Harper would play right field, with Zimmerman returning to left. Harper played all three outfield positions during his five-game rehab stint in the minor leagues, where he hit 9-for-14 (.643) with four home runs and 11 RBIs.

Harper suggested Monday that his ideal lineup would include Zimmerman in left, Rendon at third and Espinosa at second.

“Rendon is a great third baseman and should be playing third, and we have one of the best [defensive] second basemen in Danny Espinosa,” Harper said. “Of course, you want the best hitting lineup in there. I think Rendon playing third and [Zimmerman] playing left is something that would be good for this team.”

Within Harper’s comments was an implication that he would rather play center field, a position currently occupied by leadoff man Denard Span.

“We’re just happy to have him back,” Williams said of Harper. “When he’s out there, regardless of where he’s at, we’d like him to catch it when it’s hit to him, and hit it when it’s thrown to him and play the way Bryce plays. I don’t have any comment other than that. We’re glad to have him in our lineup and hopefully I can write his name in there every single day and that would be really important for our club.”

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