WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' season-long problems holding baserunners were once again exposed Tuesday night. Juan Pierre stole second and third, then scored on an errant throw by catcher Jesus Flores, and to add insult to injury, pitcher Cliff Lee stole second against Stephen Strasburg.
Entering Wednesday, Washington had caught only 15 percent of basestealers this season, throwing out 13 of 85 runners. That ranks second-worst in the Majors, behind only the Pirates' nine percent. Manager Davey Johnson ran down the list of his pitchers who are slow to the plate, yet the Nationals have the lowest team ERA in baseball. Those two statistics aren't unrelated.
"There's some other guys that can be quicker to the plate, but they're just trying to make sure they ... hit their spot," Johnson said. "I never worry too much about it. ... Dwight Gooden was 1.6 [seconds to the plate]. They stole second and stole third, but they never scored."
Johnson defended the way his catchers have been attempting to throw out runners, putting the onus squarely on his pitching staff.
"I think [Flores is] throwing pretty good. And [Sandy] Leon's track record's good," Johnson said. "The guys that are doing it, they've got a quicker move [to the plate]. But they've also been very successful the way that they're going, so they ain't changing."
Strasburg, who has caught only two of 14 runners, is somewhat of an exception. He's quick to the plate once he starts his delivery, but Johnson said he loses track of runners as soon as he gathers his hands and prepares to make a pitch.
"The Stras thing, we've been working on. He does the same thing every time. As soon as he comes here, he's going," said Johnson, replicating Strasburg's movement. "Once he starts, he does the same thing: He looks, then he goes. They run on him. We've told him to vary the length of time -- 'Don't you continue to do that.' But he's kind of stuck. He'll get it."During Wednesday's 3-2 loss to Philly, Juan Pierre stole second and third in the ninth inning against Sean Burnett and Flores.
Zimmermann to get extra day of rest
WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson remains confident it's not a big deal, but the shoulder inflammation that's given Jordan Zimmermann trouble getting loose his past few starts has now pushed his next outing back a day.
Zimmermann was originally scheduled to pitch Friday against the Marlins, but Johnson swapped him and Gio Gonzalez, giving Zimmermann an extra day to rest. Zimmermann began taking medication for the injury on Monday. Gonzalez will still be pitching on regular rest following Monday's off-day, while Zimmermann will start on six days' rest.
"To make it easier for everybody concerned, Gio can throw [on the side] today and pitch Friday on his full rest. This just gives Zim an extra day," Johnson said. "It's not a big deal because he's feeling good, a lot better than he has been, and he's been pitching lights-out. So it's good."
Johnson continued to downplay the situation, pointing to Zimmermann's most recent start in Milwaukee as to how effective he can be. The Miller Park radar gun tagged one of Zimmermann's early fastballs at 97 mph. Johnson first revealed after that game that Zimmermann has been dealing with this ailment for a few weeks, but the right-hander said it was nothing out of the ordinary.
"He was going to get an extra day anyway," Johnson said. "It's not a big concern. He threw a great game."
With Zimmermann starting Saturday, Gonzalez will pitch the nightcap of Friday's doubleheader and John Lannan will be added to the roster to pitch the first game.
Harper working to get out of offensive funk
WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper admitted after Tuesday night's 0-for-4 performance that he's been "all over the place" at the plate since the All-Star break. Entering Wednesday night's action, the rookie had posted a .171/.266/.257 batting line in 18 games since July 13, striking out 18 times in 79 second-half plate appearances.
"Just trying to find some mellowness at the plate and in the box," Harper said Tuesday night. "I'm just trying to work at it every day and take something good from every at-bat, take something good from every game."
He has only three extra-base hits since the break, dropping his slugging percentage nearly 50 points from where it stood heading into the second half of the season. Harper was batting .282 with an .826 OPS prior to the season's unofficial midway point.
"I don't think I'm trying to do too much at all," he said. "I'm just trying to keep my strikeouts down and my walks up. I think that's the biggest thing. Try to square some stuff up and just trying to have good ABs and just trying to battle."Harper went 2-for-4 during the 3-2 loss on Wednesday, getting singles in his first two at-bats.
Werth an option to lead off when he returns
WASHINGTON -- Though Jayson Werth remains a few days away from rejoining the Nationals, the veteran outfielder could slide into the team's leadoff spot when he returns, according to manager Davey Johnson.
Aside from having Werth play two or three more rehab games with Class A Potomac, the Nationals would like their 33-year-old outfielder to play in back-to-back games before returning to the team. Werth led off and played center field for Potomac on Wednesday night.
"I talked to him about it and he said, he has all the history, 'Well, we had our longest win streak in Philadelphia when I was leading off. And playing center,'" Johnson said when asked about the possibility of Werth leading off. "I said, 'A 6-foot-6 donkey wants to lead off?'"
In his 10-year career, Werth has batted .222 with a .323 on-base percentage in 41 at-bats in the leadoff spot -- interestingly enough, both figures are the lowest among any place in the order.
Before breaking his right wrist on May 6, Werth batted fifth in 17 of the 28 games he played, though Johnson added that he could also bat sixth. Defensively, Johnson will likely rotate Werth with Bryce Harper and Roger Bernadina in center field.
The Nats' lineup also figures to change once Ian Desmond returns from the disabled list. Desmond was sidelined on July 23 with a left oblique strain.
Zimmerman to be in Nats' lineup Thursday
WASHINGTON -- Ryan Zimmerman ranged from saying there's a "99.99 percent" chance he'll play on Thursday to flat-out guaranteeing it, but all indications are the Nationals' third baseman will rejoin the lineup for the series finale with the Phillies.
In Zimmerman's place, Chad Tracy, activated from the disabled list on Tuesday after missing 55 games with a right adductor strain, started Wednesday's game at third base.
"I'll play [Thursday]," Zimmerman said. "I think I could have played today, but [manager] Davey [Johnson] kind of likes to give us an extra day at this point in the season just to make sure it gets out of there."
Zimmerman was held out of the lineup on Tuesday after appearing to tweak his back while sliding into home during the 11th inning of Sunday's 11-10 win over the Brewers in Milwaukee. The Nats were off on Monday, though Zimmerman's back tightened up enough before Tuesday's game to make Johnson err on the side of caution.
"I feel pretty good about it. He's been getting all kinds of treatment," Johnson said. "I think we have every conceivable person here to lay their hands on it. So he was in a pretty good frame of mind, he was a lot better. It wasn't as sharp as it was the day before. It's still tight."
Zimmerman has also endured lingering soreness in his right shoulder, but after seeing his batting average dip as low as .218 on June 24, the 27-year-old veteran batted .366 with a 1.186 OPS, 10 home runs and 24 RBIs in July.
While Zimmerman was getting another day off, Adam LaRoche returned to the lineup on Wednesday after missing Tuesday's game with back spasms.
"Nobody wants time off, but this month is the hardest of all the months, I guess you could say," Zimmerman said. "Especially with the schedule we've had lately and that we're going to have coming up. We've played 18 [games] in 17 days before the off-day [on Monday] and we're about to play 16 in 15."Zimmerman came off the bench in Wednesday's 3-2 loss to collect a pinch-hit single in the eighth inning but was thrown out trying to steal second. He then played third base during the ninth.
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.