Zimmerman’s homers meaningful in more ways than one for Nats

Ryan Zimmerman wanted to remind everyone that the Nationals offense is just fine. And he did it with back-to-back swings late Sunday night at Nationals Park.

In the Nats’ 7-1 victory over the Dodgers, Zimmerman crushed a game-changing three-run shot in the sixth and then a solo homer in his next at-bat to lead off the eighth.

Those homers, numbers 32 and 33 on the season, helped to erase a 1-0 Dodgers lead. Prior to his three-run shot, the Nats had managed just two runs in 23 innings versus the Dodgers.

zimmerman-gray-high-five-dugout.jpgZimmerman finished 3-for-4 with two homers and four RBIs. The 33 homers this season matches his career-high of 33 set in 2009, when Zimmerman hit 33 homers in 610 at-bats for a slugging percentage of .525 over 157 games.

This season, Zimmerman has launched 33 homers in 492 at-bats with a slugging percentage of .559 over 135 games. He reached those 33 homers in 118 fewer at-bats. He has 99 RBIs this season, compared to 106 in 2009.

Manager Dusty Baker sees a clear distinction as to why Zimmerman is having a better all-around season versus 2016 when he was limited to 115 games.

“Last year, he was hurt, starting out hurt,” Baker said. “I’ve always been told if you start the year hurt, it makes for a long year. You’re playing catch-up the whole year, and he never really caught up. There were people telling me to bench him and stuff, and I knew this guy was a long ways from through. He had some good years ahead of him. Couldn’t happen to a finer guy. He doesn’t alibi or complain or anything. He just plays ball. Not only that, he’s one of your best citizens as well as your best player.”

But what makes these big hits to help win the series finale against the Dodgers more meaningful for Zimmerman is the breaks he hasn’t seen go his way recently.

He had hit only .188 in his last four games coming in. After a very good April through June, Zimmerman hit .234 in July and .233 in August. What kept him in it this weekend, and really the first two weeks of September, was he was again making good contact.

“Yeah and I think all three games of this series I thought I had good at-bats,” Zimmerman said. “That’s part of it. I think baseball’s, especially, as you said, I’m kind of a streaky guy so you just got to keep going and keep doing your way. We got 12 or 13 games left, whatever it is. Got to finish strong and go up as we go into the playoffs.”

A lot of fans noticed after Zimmerman hit the game-altering homer was his reaction as he rounded the base paths and the crowd roared: all that frustration of scoring just two runs in the first two-plus games was let out in a hit that erased the deficit. His homer gave the Nats their first lead in the series against a possible post season opponent.

“It’s been a tough series,” Zimmerman said. “We haven’t scored many runs -- in the last week we haven’t scored many runs. We’ve hit a lot of balls at people, which happens, and I think it was just a frustration for us offensively because the pitchers have actually been throwing the ball well and we haven’t helped them out.

“So, it’s kind of a relief to get a big hit, to get us going, and to score some runs. But, yeah, a lot more of emotion that I usually show for a September game but who knows.”

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