It's no secret that Ryan Zimmerman has been the Nationals' most disappointing player this season, and Dusty Baker has given his veteran first baseman no shortage of opportunities to try to hit his way out of a months-long funk.
With the postseason now nearly upon the Nats, there has perhaps been some reason to wonder whether Zimmerman will actually be part of the Nationals starting lineup, or whether Baker might consider some kind of platoon situation involving Clint Robinson or Stephen Drew.
Baker shot down that theory this afternoon when asked about the possibility.
"No. Not right now," the manager said. "I mean, that hasn't crossed my mind."
Zimmerman, who owns a career-worst .219 batting average with 15 homers, 46 RBIs and a .646 OPS that ranks eighth-worst among all major league hitters with at least 450 plate appearances, is not in the Nationals lineup for tonight's series opener against the Marlins.
Instead, Robinson is making the start at first base. But Baker explained that move as an opportunity for Robinson to get some at-bats before he needs to come off the bench in the playoffs, plus an opportunity for Zimmerman to rest some nagging ailments.
"There's certain guys that I feel that Clint may have a better chance of being successful against," Baker said. "But that's not a platoon for me. And also, I've got to make sure Zim gets there healthy. ... I've got to take care of Zim, because he's been nursing some things, and that field's conditions are terrible. Like yesterday, he could've gotten hurt with that wind blowing and making that outstanding catch. So, got to secure our guys."
For all his struggles this season, Zimmerman has continued to make solid contact on something of a regular basis, particularly in the last week-plus. He's hitting .300 (9-for-30) with two doubles, a homer, two walks and an .830 OPS over his last nine games.
Baker has seen encouraging signs in the 32-year-old's swing.
"It's been good for the last couple weeks, even though he hasn't gotten hits," the manager said. "He's been our tough-luck guy, too. There's always a tough-luck guy. And I just keep in mind with Zim that, 'Hey, man, you can be the man for a long period of time like we know that you've done.' We've seen him do it before. We need Zim. We need him badly."
Update: The start of tonight's game has been delayed by rain. Though it hasn't been raining hard this afternoon and early evening, the tarp has remained on the infield for hours.
Update II: The rain has eased up, the grounds crew is removing the tarp and the Nats say first pitch will be at 8:45 p.m.
Update III: They indeed got this game underway after a delay of 1 hour, 43 minutes. A.J. Cole cruised through a nine-pitch first inning, but he struggled in the second, giving up four hits, with two of the runners scoring. The Nationals have a pair of baserunners against Andrew Cashner, but that's it so far. And so they trail 2-0 after two.
Update IV: Make it 4-0 after three innings, thanks in part to some sloppy defense. Danny Espinosa and Stephen Drew let a popup fall in between them, and Jose Lobaton had a passed ball. Cole wound up getting pulled after three innings, so it'll be Mat Latos taking over in the fourth.
Update V: Just like that, this game is tied. The Nats scored four times in the bottom of the fourth, thanks in part to back-to-back homers by Anthony Rendon and Drew. Rendon's blast was his 20th, giving the Nationals six 20-homer players this season, making them only the third team in National League history to ever boast that. (The 1965 Milwaukee Braves and the 2003 Atlanta Braves are the only others in that exclusive club.)
Drew only has eight homers on the season, but he's done that in only 138 at-bats, which is impressive in itself. And so it's 4-4 heading to the fifth.
Update VI: The Marlins are back on top, now 5-4 after six. Sammy Solis had a strong top of the fifth, but returned for his second inning of work and departed after a double, flyout and walk. Trevor Gott managed to induce a popup for the second out, and Oliver Perez got Dee Gordon to ground softly to short. But the speedy Miami leadoff man beat Espinosa's throw to first, and that brought the go-ahead run home.
Update VII: Make it 6-4 Marlins after Christian Yelich mashed a ball into the second deck in right-center off Sean Burnett. Lefties had been just 1-for-12 against Burnett since his promotion, but that was a blast. Heading to the eighth now, Nats down to their last six outs.
Update VIII: That's the game. Nats lose 7-4 after Blake Treinen gave up another insurance run in the top of the ninth. The lineup did squat against the Miami bullpen, at one point going 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts.
The Nats won't be clinching home field advantage tonight. At best, they could reduce their magic number to one if the Dodgers lose in San Francisco. At worst, they would be just one game up with two to play (and remember, they lose the tiebreaker).