WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson decided to start Brian Bixler in center field for Monday's 4-1 win over the D-backs because he wanted to get Bixler some playing time and give Rick Ankiel a day off.

An infielder by trade, Bixler is not seeing any time at shortstop or second base, because Johnson wants Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa to know each other up the middle.

Ankiel has been in the lineup every day and is playing a solid center field. In his past four games, including a pinch-hit appearance Monday, Ankiel is 2-for-15. Bixler went 1-for-4 against the D-backs and is hitting 12-for-62 (.193) with two RBIs on the season.

"I look at Bixler as a middle infielder, a shortstop," Johnson said. "I put him in the outfield for defense and more speed. And I said, 'I'll give Ankiel a blow and give Bixler some at-bats, just to give him a chance to play.'"

Zimmerman restates goal of staying with Nats

WASHINGTON -- Ryan Zimmerman reiterated on Monday that he would like to stay with the Nationals for a long time -- just like Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, who signed long-term deals with their teams.

The 26-year-old third baseman has two years left on his contract before he becomes a free agent after the 2013 season.

Zimmerman is clearly the Nationals' best player, hitting .311 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs in 68 games, and was recently named the National League Player of the Week.

"Obviously, I've made it known that I love it here," Zimmerman said. "I want to play here my entire career right here, if I can. Not too many guys are lucky enough to do that. Tulo has kind of got that working, and Brauny signed one in Milwaukee.

"I want to be here when it's going to be an exciting time to be here. We are going to have a good team. The young guys are learning how to play, I'm still learning. It's going to be a good thing to be a part of. I want to be part of it for a long time."

The Nationals have made tremendous strides this season. They are in third place and just two games under .500 with a 62-64 record. It has helped that the club has improved its pitching and defense.

For Zimmerman, it helps that the Nationals have replenished the farm system.

"We have some young, talented guys that are making their way to the big leagues," Zimmerman said. "For three or four years, they have been telling us they are rebuilding the farm system. Now, we are finally seeing some of the rewards when we were going through those painful times.

"For the young guys to learn at this level, for us to bond at such a young age and kind of grow up together, when it all clicks, it going to be a real special group."