If Ryan Zimmerman dreamed about getting back on the field with his teammates and helping out with the bat and in the field, Tuesday might have been one sequence that actually came true.
In a 7-0 victory over division rival Phillies, the new Nationals left fielder clubbed a pair of doubles good for an RBI, making two nice catches to help the Nationals secure the win. He had missed 44 games with a right thumb fracture and spent four days on a minor league rehabilitation assignment with high Single-A Potomac.
“Felt good,” Zimmerman said on his return. “Getting the games in down there, being able to do the work even while I was on the DL, I think helped a lot. There is nothing like getting into the first game, getting a couple balls, and getting a couple of hits helped, too.”
Zimmerman said the two catches were routine. Was he surprised he didn’t get more work in the outfield?
“Well that means our pitchers are doing a good job,” Zimmerman said, referring mainly to the effort by starter Jordan Zimmermann. “Jordan threw great tonight. Offense was great. I just catch what comes to me.”
“He was good out there,” Zimmermann said. “I only gave him a couple of balls. One running in and one right at him and I told him to next one was going to be over his head, so be ready. We got good laugh out of it. He looks comfortable out there so that’s good.”
The other Zimmerman, the one with two Ns, was masterful on the bump.
Zimmermann went eight innings for the first time in 2014, allowing no runs on five hits. It was his first win since May 18. He had allowed 15 earned runs in his last four starts. What was the key difference in the win Tuesday?
“I was actually hitting my location,” Zimmermann said. “When I want to throw a ball, I was throwing a ball, and not leaving it over the middle. We had a really good game plan and Willy (Ramos) and I were on the same page. It was one of those nights where it was fun to be out there and had everything working.”
Zimmermann said when his slider is biting, it makes all of his other offerings better. Recently, he had trouble with his slider.
“No, it was just a little flat,” Zimmermann said of his slider before Tuesday. “Today, I had a little more depth on it. I think the humidity might help. I had a little better feel. I was throwing it and it was going where I wanted it to. Overall, it was good.”
But the seven runs and 10 hits also allowed Zimmermann to do what he does best, just go out and pitch.
Zimmerman did not take offense in the fifth when the Phillies opted to intentionally walk Adam LaRoche in front of him with first base open. He said that was the right baseball play. But Zimmerman was ready and delivered a critical RBI double, giving the Nationals a 4-0 lead. He said it is hard to pitch around anyone in the Nats lineup, even if strategy says you should.
“You got a guy like Ian (Desmond) who has hit 11 home runs,” Zimmerman said. “We have a talented team, we just have to get healthy. I think every team goes through injuries during the year, so it is not an excuse. I don’t think we would ever use it as that.
“It’s always more fun when you have everyone in your lineup, I wouldn’t say supposed to be in there, but the guys slated to be to start there at the beginning of the year.”
Zimmerman looked fluid at the plate and, just like manager Matt Williams had said earlier in the week, the veteran has a knack for picking up the bat and being able to swing for base hits, just like he did in the first three days of spring training.
“I have just been fortunate enough to get a lot of at-bats at a young age and kind of learn my swing and know what pitches I can handle, what pitches I can’t,” Zimmerman said.
“(The key is) just not trying to do too much when you first come back. I think that is the big thing. People try and make up for the time that they’ve lost. If you try to do that, you are going to dig yourself into a hole. You just got to stay within yourself and trust what you have done for years.”