Reporting David Elfin
The National League East-leading Nats have lost two straight games, but there has been unexpected and long-awaited good news in the midst of those defeats at Baltimore and Colorado. Maybe, just maybe, Ryan Zimmerman is finally getting untracked.
For six seasons, through changes in ownership, stadiums, the front office, the dugout and everywhere else in the lineup, the Nats could always count on Zimmerman.
The franchise’s first draft choice after it relocated from Montreal to Washington for the 2005 season, Zimmerman reached the majors that summer and quickly became a fixture in the lineup at third base. The Nats finished last in the NL East four times, in fourth place once and third once without ever reaching .500, but Zimmerman was as reliable as a hot and humid Washington summer.
Zimmerman was second in the voting for the NL Rookie of the Year in 2006 just after he turned 22. He christened Nats Park with a walkoff home run to beat the Atlanta Braves on Opening Day 2008. The following season, Zimmerman was an All-Star while batting .292 with 33 homers and 106 RBI and winning the Gold Glove for his excellence afield.
The kid from UVa hit over .300 in 2010 and .289 in 2001, but last year he also missed more than two months following abdominal surgery and his power numbers dropped dramatically.
However, that was nothing compared to Zimmerman’s struggles in 2012, a season that began a month after he signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension to remain in Washington through 2019. He sat out 13 games in late April and early May because of an inflamed right shoulder and hadn’t been himself since he returned to the lineup more than a month ago.
Zimmerman struck out in his first three at-bats last Thursday against Tampa Bay. He went 0-for-4 on Saturday at Baltimore to extend his slump to 2-for-31. That dropped the longstanding rock of the Nats to a .217 average with a homer and four RBI in his last 78 at-bats.
“It’s not like I’m swinging at bad pitches,” Zimmerman said on Saturday. “I’m just missing pitches that I usually hit. It’d be different if I was striking out swinging at sliders in the dirt or fastballs above the chest or whatever, but I’ve been working decent counts and getting good pitches to hit and I just foul them back.”
Zimmerman, whose ever-stellar defense hasn’t suffered, has been frustrated because the shoulder isn’t affecting his fielding, throwing or his hitting … in batting practice.
“At some point, you kind of have to look at it and say, ‘Is it smart to keep going through this?’ “ Zimmerman said. “Or should we try and do something … so that during the second half I can actually be 100 percent or a lot closer to 100 percent?”
The first thing the Nats tried was a cortisone shot – his second this year — in Zimmerman’s right shoulder before Sunday’s game at Camden Yards. He responded with two of Washington’s six hits – his first multi-hit game in nearly three weeks — and an RBI. Zimmerman doubled in a run last night at Coors Field, making him 3-of-8 with two RBI since the shot. Not nearly enough of an extended test, but the results so far have been undeniably positive.
Perhaps Zimmerman won’t be headed back to the disabled list after all even with the three-day All Star break just 13 days away. And perhaps the cortisone shot has jump-started Zimmerman to a full recovery and being a full-fledged critical piece of Washington’s drive for its first postseason appearance in 79 years.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin