Ryan Zimmerman takes a larger leadership role for the Washington Nationals

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 6, 2010

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. -- One day this spring training, Ryan Zimmerman wanted to speak with Jim Riggleman about the routine the manager performs after each game. Upon his hiring last year, Riggleman walked from locker to locker with, depending on circumstance, instruction, encouragement or excoriation. Zimmerman thought both he and the Nationals had evolved.

"We can't expect you to always do that," Riggleman recalled Zimmerman telling him. "We got to take on that role a little bit."

More than ever, the Washington Nationals follow Zimmerman for his ability and his example. He is their best player and their hardest worker, and no one has appeared in more games as a National. He is also overshadowed this spring everywhere but inside the clubhouse. Phenom Stephen Strasburg, even before his first appearance in a spring training game, may already have surpassed Zimmerman as the organization's most publicly recognized player. But Zimmerman remains the foundation, if no longer the face, of the franchise.

Zimmerman, entering his fifth full season after the best year of his career, will continue his emergence and evolution as a leader on a team more flush with veterans than at any point in his tenure. He already has become such an obvious leader the organization may make it official: General Manager Mike Rizzo has considered making Zimmerman the Nationals' first team captain.

"I think already he's a leader of the club and kind of a pseudo-captain already," Rizzo said. "We've kicked around the premise of making somebody the captain of the team, with a 'C' on their jersey. I haven't come to any conclusion. Zim, obviously, is the leader of the franchise."

When asked about the possibility Friday, Zimmerman felt uncomfortable with the notion of being designated anything.

"I don't think anything of that, man," Zimmerman said. "I think everyone around here is the same. We're all teammates here. I don't think any of that is -- I don't know what to say -- necessary, I guess. I don't think about that stuff."

His reaction to potential captaincy underscores Zimmerman's subtle leadership style: "Just do what you do, and other people follow you," he said. Zimmerman plans on taking a more active leadership stance, but he won't change his general approach.

"It's really starting to manifest itself," Riggleman said. "He's going to be one of the guys who can speak up when something needs to be said."

At times, that will include helping make Riggleman's postgame chats less necessary. Zimmerman sees it at as a responsibility, along with other club veterans such as Adam Dunn and Iván Rodríguez, to make sure players understand internal expectations without Riggleman offering a daily reminder.

"When mistakes are made during the game, it's probably going to be addressed even before we get to the clubhouse," Zimmerman said. "In the past couple years, we've had a really young team where things like that are needed, and you have to learn from your mistakes and you might have to have someone tell you.

"I think we're to the point now where all of us know what we do, when it's right and when it's wrong. We have the core group of guys now where we should take care of that. It shouldn't be just Jim's job to go around after the game and do all that. He has other stuff to worry about. I think that's our job. We're to the point now where we have a team that can do that on its own, and that's how it should be."

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