If it wasn’t painfully obvious in the last at-bat of his 0-for-4 day in a 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves, something is wrong with Ryan Zimmerman. The unquestioned leader of the Nationals and the team’s best overall player is struggling to maintain consistency at the plate. Two men were on, there were no outs and the Nationals trailed by a run in the eighth, but Zimmerman dribbled the ball to the second baseman for a double play.
His previous three at-bats: groundout to the first baseman, groundout to the shortstop and lineout to center field.
Since returning on May 8, after missing 13 games with a sore shoulder, Zimmerman has been a shadow of himself. Overall, he is hitting .240/.321/.342. Zimmerman, who signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension in February, insists his shoulder isn’t plaguing him. His assessment about his performance after Sunday was frank.
“I just stink right now,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”
Zimmerman has hit into almost as many double plays (a team-high seven) as he has hit doubles (nine). The career .272 hitter with runners in scoring position is hitting only 7 for 31 (.226) in those situations this season. In that eighth inning at-bat against Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty, he swung and missed at the first two fastballs before taking two balls and grounding out.
“He’s trying to get something going, and was a little aggressive early in the count,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “I don’t want him to change anything, I just want him to be Zim. I think early in the count he was looking for a ball he could drive out of the ballpark, but he ... just tried to do too much.”
There was a recent stretch where Zimmerman had hits in nine of 10 games, and showed signs of starting to find a groove in a 3-for-5 game against the Baltimore Orioles on May 18. In all fairness, through 37 games last season, another injury-shortened year, Zimmerman did much of the same, hitting .248/.340/.397. Then, he found a groove and finished at .289/.355/.443 — still below his career averages.
“That’s the beautiful thing about baseball,” Zimmerman said. “I have four months left to turn it around. I’ve been terrible and a couple of other guys have been hurt and we’ve been in first-place the whole year. It’s definitely not what I wanted to do to start this season. I can’t do anything about it now. Just gotta keep working hard and continue to grind it out. It’ll change. It’s been like this before. You just have to stay positive and keep working.”
To break out of it, Zimmerman said he would go back through his at-bats to find the little things that failed and improve them. The Nationals offense, which is has improved since the arrival of Bryce Harper and should only continue to with Michael Morse in the lineup, needs the middle-of-the order bat of Zimmerman.
“I talked to him and I feel like he’s close,” Johnson said. “He feels like he’s just inching closer to feeling comfortable up there. He’s a big guy in our lineup. We need him comfortable … he’s too good a hitter to continue to struggle.”
FROM THE POST
Three key plays doom the Nationals in a 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Sunday.
This year’s MLB draft features two new things for the Nationals: they’re picking later than they have recently and, more importantly, there’s a a new collective bargaining agreement limiting spending, writes Adam Kilgore.
“The Nationals play with the exuberance of gifted children. But they also make the mistakes of youth,” writes Thomas Boswell.
There’s a can’t-miss MLB draft prospect in King George County in Virginia and his name is Damion Carroll, writes Preston Williams.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
Steve Lombardozzi and Bryce Harper are the first rookies to hit back-to-back home runs to lead off a game in the modern major league era.
Gio Gonzalez is named the National League Pitcher of the Month and Harper earns the Rookie of the Month honor.
The Nationals bring up veteran lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez and send Ryan Perry back down.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Indianapolis 14, Syracuse 6: Catcher James Skelton drives in two runs; Corey Brown, Xavier Paul and Erik Komatsu each drive in one.
Harrisburg 6, New Britain 1: Right-hander Kevin Pucetas allows one run on three hits over six innings.
Potomac 8, Lynchburg 0: Robbie Ray throws a career-high eight innings and allows only two hits while striking out nine.
Hagerstown 13, Delmarva 5: Infielder Cutter Dykstra drives in four runs and raises his batting average to .302 (45 for 149).