What's in store for Zimmerman during final weekend?

At some point in each of the next three evenings, Ryan Zimmerman is going to step to the plate at Nationals Park and receive a massive ovation each time. It won't matter what he does, whether he drives a ball off the wall for a double or strikes out on three pitches. The crowd will shower him with adulation whenever his name is mentioned, anytime he does anything of note, really, on the field.

And when he steps off the field for the last time during or after Sunday's season finale against the Red Sox, there surely will be another ovation, perhaps the loudest of all. Maybe the crowd will even coax Zimmerman back out of the dugout for the umpteenth curtain call of his career, and he'll sheepishly oblige.

Thumbnail image for Zimmerman-Curtain-Call-White-Sidebar.jpgIt's going to be the kind of celebration you typically expect for a retiring star making his final appearance in uniform. Except for one tiny little quirk: Nobody knows if this actually will be Zimmerman's final appearance in uniform, not even the man himself.

"I haven't said anything, because I really don't know, to be honest with you," he said earlier this week during a Zoom session with reporters. "I don't want to make a decision on anything before I really have closure on it. The last thing I would want to do is say I don't want to come back, and then come December, I'm sitting at home and talking with my family and realize I do want to come back. I just think there's no real rush."

As much as fans (and perhaps some club executives in charge of things like ceremonies for retiring players) probably wish they knew, Zimmerman has every right to leave the question unanswered for now. He's got some serious thinking to do, and he's not about to make this kind of monumental decision during the heat of battle.

It's never been his way to do that. For 16 years he's maintained a just-worry-about-today mindset, and it has served him well. Why change now, even if it may be inconveniencing others?

"I get it," he said. "I've talked to some people about certain situations and things like that. I'm never really good at recognizing. I tend to downplay situations, so a lot of people have told me. But it's different for me."

Why is it different? Because if Zimmerman does ultimately decide to retire, he'll still get his victory lap soon enough. The Nationals could hold a press conference with dozens of reporters present. They could then retire his jersey and hold a special day in his honor early next season for fans.

"Whatever happens at the end of this year and with next year, I live here," he said. "My kids are going to go to school. I'm lucky to live and be where I play. Whether this is the last series, or whether it's not, if I do decide something in the offseason, it's not like I'm going to disappear. There will be a time and a place to do something, if something's done. I just don't want to force it or make a decision just for the sake of making a decision, if that makes sense."

What, then, is likely to occur this weekend at Nationals Park? Is Davey Martinez going to go out of his way to make sure Zimmerman plays a lot?

Not necessarily. Though he's almost certainly going to start at least one game at first base, it doesn't appear he's going to start all three. That's still Josh Bell's job, and that's not going to change in the final series of the season.

As of Tuesday night, Zimmerman and Martinez hadn't met to map out a playing schedule.

"We haven't really, to be honest with you," the 37-year-old said. "I kind of look at my role as ... my role is what it is. Maybe we'll talk about this last series when we get home, but we haven't really talked about it much. I don't really expect anything different."

At minimum, Zimmerman figures to start one game and pinch-hit in the other two. It'll be up to Martinez to decide when he should do that.

Then again, maybe there's no reason to spend all that much time worrying about it right now. Consider how well this season has gone for Zimmerman - personally, that is, not for the team. Across 266 plate appearances, he's batting .244 with 14 homers, 45 RBIs, a .472 slugging percentage and .754 OPS. Hardly superstar numbers, but plenty productive for a part-timer.

Most importantly, Zimmerman has avoided the injured list for only the second time in the last decade. He's the only Nationals player to have spent the entire season on the active roster. The only one.

"I did everything I can to keep him healthy this year," Martinez said. "It was awesome that he was able to stay off the IL all year long and participate. It was a good all-around year for him. And I told him: 'What you did coming off the bench, it's not easy. That's a tough job.' And I think he realizes that now."

Zimmerman fully embraced his role. And given that he was productive and stayed healthy throughout, why wouldn't he commit himself to at least one more season?

"For me, there's no doubt," Martinez said. "I still think he has a lot left in the tank. His bat speed is still there. As you can see, he's still one of the better first basemen, fielding-wise, in the game. He runs the bases well. It's all up to him."

It is indeed all up to him. It may prevent everyone else from throwing a full-scale farewell party for him this weekend. But who's to say he's ready for one anyway?

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