Five-day layoff doesn't slow down productive Zimmerman

CHICAGO - From a personal standpoint, Ryan Zimmerman couldn't have timed his paternity leave much better.

Zimmerman's wife, Heather, gave birth to the couple's second daughter Thursday (an off-day for the Nationals). Then Zimmerman missed his team's three-game series in Cincinnati while officially on the paternity leave list. Then he got to take advantage of another off-day for the Nationals before rejoining them here Tuesday night for the opener of their interleague series against the White Sox.

From a baseball standpoint, though, this wasn't necessarily ideal. A five-day break in the middle of the season can leave a previously hot hitter ice-cold again, searching for a while to get his swing back.

For Zimmerman, it hasn't been a problem at all. He had found his stroke when he left the club last week, and he still had it as soon as he returned this week, even though he says he did nothing in between besides take care of his family and watch his teammates on television.

Zimmerman Henley gray high five trot.jpg"It's just kind of like having two All-Star breaks," he said. "Before I left, I was feeling good. I would just sort of every day mentally remind myself where I was. Obviously, I couldn't hit or do anything like that. But five days gives me a chance to let everything heal a little bit. As far as hitting goes, you know how I am. When I'm going good, I'm going good. And I'm just trying to keep that going."

Zimmerman did that Wednesday night during the Nationals' 11-4 thumping of the White Sox, launching a two-homer off James Shields in the top of the first inning to get his team started.

That was merely a continuation of Zimmerman's recent hot streak at the plate. After a sluggish start to the season, he now sports a .992 OPS and eight homers in his last 23 games.

Manager Dusty Baker didn't want to just assume his veteran first baseman would pick up where he left off, so he purposely moved Zimmerman down to the sixth spot in his batting order Tuesday night. For now, he remains there, but that may not stay the case for long.

"That's why I put him down in the order because I didn't know what he was going to be like when he came back," Baker said. "We're welcoming whoever's hot, and especially in the middle of the lineup."

Though there have been streaks and slumps sprinkled throughout, not to mention injuries, Zimmerman has proven over the long haul he's still one of this team's biggest offensive producers. Total up his last 162 games played - that goes all the way back to July 10, 2014, because of his hamstring tear that season and the foot injury that sidelined him last summer - and he has 27 homers, 114 RBIs and 39 doubles, though a slightly diminished batting average (.256) and on-base percentage (.316).

Those long-term stats help confirm one of Baker's longstanding theories: Water seeks its own level.

"You don't always just start off hot," the manager said. "I've seen good hitters for a long period of time, some start off hot, some start off cold. But the end result is usually there somewhere around 10 points or so around their lifetime average. ... That's what I mean by 'Water seeks its own level.' We're in such a society that everything is today and we want it right now, and it doesn't work like that. That's why this is a long race. This is a long, long race. But sometimes we treat it as if it were a sprint. No, this is a marathon. This is a long race."

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