Dusty sticking with Zimmerman behind Harper

Dusty sticking with Zimmerman behind Harper

WASHINGTON -- In the roughly 24 hours since the Cubs issued a record-tying six walks to Bryce Harper on Sunday, and set another record by walking him 13 times during the course of a four-game series, Nationals manager Dusty Baker said he thought "long and hard" about switching up the man hitting behind Harper to discourage teams from doing so.

Yet, the middle of the Nationals' order for Monday's game against the Tigers remained unchanged. Ryan Zimmerman, who left an MLB-record 14 runners on base Sunday, will continue to bat behind Harper. Daniel Murphy, who began the day hitting .395 and is the popular pick to swap spots in the batting order with Zimmerman, will continue to hit fifth.

"A few days doesn't merit you switching it up," Baker said. "If [Zimmerman] had gotten one hit in one of those times, you'd never even ask me this today."

Baker listed a few factors on why he decided to keep his lineup the same, at least for now.

First, he considered the Tigers, stacked with three left-handers in the bullpen. Murphy, like Harper, is a left-handed hitter, and Baker did not want to give the Tigers an easy matchup advantage in the late innings. Murphy has hit lefties well in a small sample against them this season -- 12-for-28 (.444) with a 1.094 OPS -- way up from his career average .277 with a .686 OPS against lefties.

Baker also considered the psyche of Zimmerman, and he was able to empathize with his situation. During his playing career, Baker was charged with the task of hitting behind Hank Aaron

"I wasn't very much protection," Baker said.

Zimmerman is batting .236/.293/.340 with a .633 OPS, but Baker pointed to the infielder's track record as reason to have confidence in him.

"Unless you've been in Zim's shoes, then you really don't know what's it's like psychologically to feel that somebody still has faith in you," Baker said. "Versus a fair-weather manager or a fair-weather fan.

"I'm not a fair-weather type guy. I'm not a forever guy either, but a couple days is not nearly as long as forever."

And then there is the fact that the Cubs will almost certainly be an extreme case of pitching around Harper. Not even Barry Bonds walked six times in a single game, so even if other teams mimic the Cubs' strategy, how many of them will be willing to walk Harper with such frequency?

"Do I tear up my whole lineup for three days?" Baker asked rhetorically. "I think people are panicking a little early to me."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.