By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
While Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was on his way to driving in 110 runs as a rookie last season, there was one constant. Leadoff man Alfonso Soriano, enjoying a season in which he became just the fourth player to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in the same year, had a career-high .351 on-base percentage and put himself in position to score 119 runs.
So Zimmerman's take now that Soriano has moved on to the Chicago Cubs: "Our lineup is going to be just as effective as it was last year," he said yesterday.
Zimmerman, 22, has been acknowledged as the cornerstone of the Nationals' rebuilding project. And in line with the positive thinking that helped him have a successful rookie season, Zimmerman is a bit defiant about the naysayers who are predicting a horrible -- perhaps historically horrible -- season for the Nationals.
"They won without Soriano the year before," Zimmerman said, noting the Nationals' 81-81 mark in 2005, compared to 71-91 in Soriano's lone season with the team. "I'm not saying taking him out of the lineup isn't going to matter. We'd like to still have him in there. Any team would. But we can win without him."
Zimmerman said he should be in position to drive in as many runs with Felipe Lopez (career .333 OBP) leading off and Cristian Guzman (career .298 OBP) hitting second.
"If I'm hitting third and I have those two guys in front of me, I'm going to be a pretty happy guy," Zimmerman said. "If either of those guys get on, they're going to steal, they're going to score from first on a double. If Guzy's healthy and he can play like we know he can play, then that's a lot of runs."
Zimmerman said his goal every year will be to drive in 100 runs no matter who's in front of him. His strategy this year: Walk more and strike out less.
"I think as the year went on, I learned the strike zone a little bit better," Zimmerman said. "I was a little bit more confident about taking pitches and not worrying about hitting with two strikes. That's one thing I'm going to take into this year."Cook-Off Caps Caravan
The Nationals' eight-day caravan through the District, Maryland and as far south as Virginia Beach (Zimmerman's home town) ended last night with a cook-off at the ESPN Zone downtown. Zimmerman joined the tour for the last three days, providing a boost of energy to left-hander Mike O'Connor and outfielder Nook Logan, who were along for the entire trek.
"It exceeded every expectation I had," said Alphonso Maldon Jr., the Nationals' senior vice president of external affairs, who was at nearly every stop along the way.
Maldon, though, said the club would take a "hard look" at how it organizes the event for next year, hoping to get more players involved.
"It's not as easy to do as I would like," he said. "Our players don't live here. There's a small window of time when these guys are available. We have to work within their schedules. And, quite honestly, there's a financial element to it, too. We have to make all that work."Ballpark Progress
The caravan stopped yesterday at the site of the new ballpark in Southeast, and the three players were among the first to stand near where home plate will be when the park opens in April 2008. "We're on schedule now," said Ronnie Strompf, a vice president at Clark Construction, which is building the park. Strompf said a generally mild winter has helped the project, and by the end of March he expects the daily workforce at the park to increase from roughly 360 to 375 that are on site now to perhaps 450 or 475.