Ryan Zimmerman has been a better second-half player his entire career. (Nick Wass/Associated Press)

CINCINNATI — Ryan Zimmerman wasn’t in the Nationals’ starting lineup Sunday against the Reds. It wasn’t because he’s hurt or because he’s been scuffling. He’s healthy, and the fact that he’s healthy on July 16 supersedes the struggle he’s endured since spending the first month of the season blasting baseballs. Manager Dusty Baker just wanted to give the all-star first baseman a day off after not taking much of a break during the all-star break. He did the same with Daniel Murphy on Friday.

Zimmerman, however, has been in a rut. He earned National League Player of the Month honors for April by batting .420 with a 1.345 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 11 home runs in 24 games, a blistering performance that got him voted in as the National League all-star team’s starting first baseman after he was one of baseball’s worst everyday players in 2016.

But his production has since declined steadily. In 52 games since May 8, when he entered the day with a .435 batting average, the 32-year-old is batting .260 with a .715 OPS and six home runs in 215 plate appearances. And the regression has steepened by the month: After that 1.345 OPS in April, he posted a .905 OPS in May and a .791 OPS in June. July’s sample size is tiny, but the drop has continued with a .444 OPS in nine games this month.

“Kind of what I’ve found is when you start trying to do crazy stuff or basically overreacting, that’s what makes it from like a week-to-a-10-day thing to like a lot [longer],” Zimmerman said on Sunday morning shortly after arriving at Great American Ballpark. “Because basically what you try to do is something new. Then that doesn’t work either so you just go back to basically the way your swing has been your whole career so you just basically prolong that. You just have to keep grinding. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m having bad at-bats. I’ve been swinging, for the most part, at decent pitches. Just haven’t gotten the results. I’ve been fouling off a lot of pitches back and that’s what kind of happens when you go through one of these; pitches that you normally hit and do damage on, you miss.”

Zimmerman remained sixth in baseball with a .322 batting average and 13th with a .952 OPS entering Sunday’s games, and a few facts indicate a reversal is imminent: He’s healthy after spending the past few years battling injuries, he’s always been a streaky hitter, and the numbers show he’s a better second-half player. In his 13 seasons, Zimmerman has batted .268 with a .785 OPS before the all-star break. After the break, those numbers jump to .297 and .858. Narrowing it further, he’s compiled his highest OPS in July and August – .860 in July and .881 in August.

“Nobody could sustain the pace that he was on,” Baker said. “But he spoiled us with it. And, I had a discussion with him that he has a tendency to be a streaky hitter because he has a lot of movable parts. And when they’re on, they’re on. When they’re off, like the more movable parts you have, you’re searching for which one is not working. But usually it’s one that sets everything else in sync. Oh yeah, I’m not worried about Ryan. I told him that because I could see him kind of stressing out a little bit after each at-bat. It’s like, ‘Hey, man if a good hitter is not hitting, the law of averages is on his side.’ I believe in the law of averages if you have the ability. And he has the ability.

Zimmerman went 0 for 4 with a walk and two strikeouts in Saturday’s win, but the Nationals didn’t need him anyway — they scored 10 runs behind Murphy and Anthony Rendon, the two guys behind him in the order.

“Everybody goes through it,” Zimmerman said. “Rarely does anyone go through a season where they don’t kind of have peaks and valleys. I’ve always been one of the guys who has really good streaks and, once or twice a year, I’ll have a streak where I have to grind one out a little bit. By no means is it ever fun. You don’t want to do it. We all want to succeed all the time. You just keep going. Lucky for me, our lineup and my teammates, whenever one of us kind of go through a dry spell, we got a bunch of other guys that can pick us up.”

NATIONALS (54-36)
Brian Goodwin CF
Wilmer Difo SS
Bryce Harper RF
Daniel Murphy 2B
Anthony Rendon 3B
Adam Lind 1B
Chris Heisey LF
Jose Lobaton C
Tanner Roark RHP

REDS (39-51)
Billy Hamilton CF
Jesse Winker RF
Joey Votto 1B
Adam Duvall LF
Scooter Gennett 2B
Eugenio Suarez 3B
Jose Peraza SS
Tucker Barnhart C
Homer Bailey RHP