Two months in, Zimmerman continues to produce at the plate

SAN FRANCISCO - There is still far more baseball to be played than has been played in 2017. But a not-insignificant amount of baseball has been played to date, with the calendar now turning another page.

Zimmerman close gray helmet.jpgAnd just as was the case when April turned to May, Ryan Zimmerman still ranks among the league leaders in almost every offensive category as May turns to June.

With a three-run blast during Wednesday night's 3-1 victory over the Giants, Zimmerman raised his home run total to 15 and his RBI total to 44. His .368 batting average leads the majors, while his .709 slugging percentage and 1.118 OPS trail only the injured Freddie Freeman and Mike Trout.

It perhaps felt at times recently that Zimmerman was slumping, but truth be told he simply was producing at an All-Star level instead of a Hall-of-Fame level. For the month of May, he still hit .319 with a .905 OPS.

"He never really cooled down," manager Dusty Baker said. "He had a couple games there where he only got a couple singles. But we'll take that."

It's easy to forget now just how much Zimmerman struggled last season. At the end of May 2016, he was batting .244 with eight homers, 24 RBIs and a .754 OPS. And that was him at his best. He finished the year as one of the least-productive hitters in the majors, batting .218 with 15 homers, 46 RBIs and a .642 OPS.

Throughout this season, Zimmerman has insisted the biggest difference between now and then is health. We may never know how banged up he was last year (or the last several years) but he insists he feels as strong now as he has in a very long time.

"I'm just healthy finally," he said again Wednesday night. "Having a healthy offseason, spring training, just getting off to a good start. I just want to keep it going."

The 32-year-old does appreciate how nice that feels, especially at this stage of a career that has featured plenty of frustrating moments along the way.

"It's a lot better than being hurt," he said with his typical deadpan style.

Others with the Nationals understand what this resurrection means to Zimmerman.

"He doesn't like making outs," Baker said. "I can't imagine how he felt last year making outs when he knows what a great player and hitter he is. I'm just so happy for him. We've just got to keep him healthy."

Baker has been doing what he can to make sure Zimmerman stays fresh through the long grind of the season. Nevertheless, he has played in 50 of the Nationals' 52 games to date, tied with Anthony Rendon for most on the roster.

And with Bryce Harper currently serving his three-game suspension, it will be difficult for Baker to give his cleanup hitter either Friday or Saturday off in Oakland.

The Nationals recognize, however, Zimmerman's importance to their eventual success this season. A productive Zimmerman changes the complexion of the heart of their lineup, and they want to make sure thing stay that way straight through September and beyond.

"When the season started, I told you he was my pick to click," Baker said. "He's making us all look good."

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