Following Wednesday’s 2-0 win over the Mets, Nationals veteran utility man Mark DeRosa turned to Ryan Zimmerman and said, “You made it back.” It’s a remark that has been uttered several times already about Zimmerman since late June. But with every passing game, hit and home run, Zimmerman is making his turnaround since his dreadful early slump feel even more dramatic.
After starting the season slowly, dealing with a shoulder injury that was root of his slump and receiving a magical cortisone shot on June 24 that erased the pain and struggles at the plate, Zimmerman has been on a rampage. He can be a streaky hitter but he demolished the ball in July. He’s again on a tear, homering in four of his past five games. It seems absurd to think that the third baseman was hitting .218 with three home runs and 22 RBI nearly three months into the season. Now, when Zimmerman looks up at the scoreboard and see his production — .287, 22 home runs and 84 RBI — he can smile.
“I made it back to where I guess it’s respectable now,” Zimmerman said. “But that was a trying time, I guess you could say. It was one of those things where I didn’t want to play but I knew I was banged up but I was good enough to play. You kind of compound that with struggling a little bit and it kind of snowballed. That was about as tough a six-week stretch as I’ve ever had in my career. To be able to look up there now and know I’ve been able to battle back from that, and more importantly, can actually help the team win now, I’m pretty proud of it.”
Since the beginning of the Nationals’ long 11-game homestand and the three-game series in New York, Zimmerman is hitting .333 (18 for 54) with six home runs, 17 RBI and six walks. He has driven in at least a run in for nine straight games, a Nationals/Expos record and tied for the longest in baseball this season. He is riding a 16-game hitting streak, the longest current one in the NL. And even though he missed two weeks in late April and May because of inflammation in his right AC joint, he is third on the Nationals in home runs and second in RBI. He has been a potent run-producing force behind leadoff hitters Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper.
“I’m okay with the slow starts,” said Zimmerman on Wednesday. “But not being able to swing the bat and do the things health-wise, I was worried about that. Because I know my body pretty well. And everyone in this room plays hurt. Everyone in every locker room. Nobody’s healthy. And I’ve played hurt a lot just like everyone else.
“But it was a different kind of feeling. It made me nervous. To get that shot and get going and be able to be on this team, I think if I would’ve missed this year, I would’ve been more upset about being around these guys and being a part of it more than anything. I could care [less] if I hit .200 with five homers. If we’re winning and I get to be around it, I think that’s what I would’ve missed most.”
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THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
Nats’ magic number for the division: 11
For a playoff spot: 4
Current NL playoff matchups
Nationals vs. Braves/Cardinals*
Reds vs. Giants
*Braves lead Cardinals by five games; Cardinals lead Dodgers by two games. The Pirates are three games back. And the Brewers are only 3 1/2 games behind St. Louis. Even the the Phillies are four back and the Diamondbacks now 4 1/2 behind.