Since Zimmerman received a cortisone shot about an hour before first pitch Sunday, he has ditched an epic slump and, as if flipping a switch, turned back into the hitter the Nationals expected to bat third for them this season. Last night, Zimmerman went 3 for 4 with a double and a home run, his first homer in 70 at-bats.
He can hit the ball with authority, especially to left field, which had been missing all June as his aching right shoulder limited his preparation and stole his strength. Entering Sunday, Zimmerman was 5 for his last 48, a bleak stretch that convinced him to try the cortisone shot. So far, despite any risk to the long-term fitness of his shoulder, it has worked.
“It feels better,” Zimmerman said. “I think I can do things and swing and prepare like I’ve always swung before. It just freed it up a little and let me do things like I’ve always done. It’s hard to try and make adjustments and do things the way you don’t normally do them and be successful.”
Zimmerman has found instant success with the shot. He recaptured his form so quickly because even as his hitting deteriorated, he continued to play and study pitching. It was purely a physical problem, and once he solved it, he felt like himself — no more missing fastballs, no more shallow flies that should have been line drives.
“I didn’t miss any time,” Zimmerman said. “So I still got to continue to see pitches and see live pitching. That’s kind of the thing. If you miss 10 or 15 days, it takes you a few days to get back into seeing fastballs and sliders. I’ve been able to see them. I just haven’t been hitting them. My strike zone judgment and things are still here. It’s just, now I can not miss pitches that I was missing before.”
Last night, that meant a milestone. In his third at-bat, Zimmerman smoked a one-hopper just under the glove of second baseman Chris Nelson. In his 3,514th at-bat and 903rd game, Zimmerman had recorded his 1,000th hit.
Typical of his personality, Zimmerman did not even realize he was on the verge of 1,000 hits. When Adam LaRoche smacked his 1,000th hit in May, he asked Zimmerman how close he was to 1,000. Zimmerman told him he thought he had already reached it.
“I don’t ever know things like that, I guess,” Zimmerman said. “But obviously it’s meaningful. Anytime you can do anything where it takes a long time in this league is meaningful. It’s something I’ll look back on, and hopefully I’ll have a lot more.”
If the hit did not come at Nationals Park, then it was fitting it would come at Coors Field. The park is a haven for any hitter, and Zimmerman has taken special advantage of it. Over 23 games in Colorado, Zimmerman is a .379 hitter with six homers and an OPS hovering around 1.100.
“It’s a good place to hit,” Zimmerman said, laughing at his understatement. “Obviously, the ball carries here. But I think you get some cheap singles, too. The jam shots and the balls off the end. The outfield is so big and the outfielders have to play deep. I think that’s what really helps you.”
Zimmerman’s success at Coors Field makes for a fascinating, “What if?” In the 2005 draft, the Nationals took Zimmerman with the fourth overall pick, and three choices later the Rockies nabbed Troy Tulowitzki.
Zimmerman has a 117 OPS+ in his career compared with Tulowitzki’s 118. (OPS+ measures a player’s combined success at reaching base and slugging, adjusted for ballpark effect with 100 representing league average.) All of Tulowitzki’s stats are gaudier because of his home park, and he is regarded as the bigger star by the baseball world at large. How would Zimmerman be viewed differently had their fates switched on draft?
The Nationals don’t need to worry about any of that. And they are plenty glad they have Zimmerman, especially now that he is hitting like himself again.
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 3, Durham 2: John Lannan allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings on five hits and five walks, striking out three. Corey Brown went 2 for 5 with a home run, his 17th of the year. Jim Negrych went 3 for 5 with a double.
Harrisburg 8, Altoona 3: Zach Walters went 3 for 5 with a double. Destin Hood returned from the disabled list and went 2 for 4 with a walk. Zech Zincola allowed no runs in 1 2/3 innings on no hits and no walks, striking out two.
Wilmington 11, Potomac 2: Rick Hague went 2 for 3 with a walk. David Freitas went 1 for 4 with a double. Robbie Ray allowed five runs in 4 2/3 innings on four hits and six walks, striking out three.
Hagerstown 9, Delmarva 3: Brian Goodwin went 1 for 3. Justin Miller went 2 for 4 with a double. Kylin Turnbull allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings on five hits and three walks, striking out four.
Auburn 8, Jamestown 3: Tony Renda went 1 for 3 with a double and two walks. Derek Self allowed no runs in 2 2/3 innings on two hits and no walks, striking out three. Bryan Harper allowed no runs in one inning on one hit and a walk, striking out one.