Ryan Zimmerman returns to the Nationals starting lineup tonight at first base for Game 4 of the National League Division Series with his club trailing the Dodgers two games to one in the best-of-five series. He will bat sixth behind second baseman Howie Kendrick.
Tonight will be Zimmerman’s 23rd postseason game. He has a career .294/.338/.500 slash line in the playoffs, with five doubles, five walks, three homers and 10 RBIs. He has a pretty good track record in big games, especially a game of the magnitude of tonight’s Game 4.
“I think that the more you play in them, the more you realize they’re just like any other game,” Zimmerman said. “There’s going to be obviously certain points in the game that are big for both teams and usually the teams that are more successful in those areas is the team that’s going to win the game. The little things usually matter. Both teams will make some mistakes, but I think it’s the team that capitalizes on the mistakes that the other teams make.
“So you just got to kind of treat it as a normal game and go out there and, kind of like we always say, take it one at-bat, one inning at a time and not try and think too much about it.”
Zimmerman became teammates with tonight’s starter, Max Scherzer, in 2015, and this is there third postseason together. He knows what Scherzer expects of himself and what he expects in a potential elimination game.
“He treats every game sort of like (a must win), I feel like,” Zimmerman said. “Every start during the regular season is you’re going to get basically what you’re going to get tonight. That’s just the way he goes about his business. Honestly, I think that’s kind of the way that we all try and go about it. It’s a little different for position players when you’re playing every single day.
“But I think if you ask any of those guys that pitch every fifth day, it’s basically the same. They’re going to go through the same routine, they’re going to try and do everything exactly like they would during a regular season start. And I think for the most part, that’s what everyone tries to do, treat it ... as normal as you possibly can.”
But what if the Nationals fall tonight? What if they win tonight and then fail in Game 5 in Los Angeles? Could this be the last game for Zimmerman in a home uniform at Nationals Park?
The Nats may decide to buy out Zimmerman’s 2020 contract for $2 million if they don’t pick up his $18 million option, which seems unlikely. This was the last guaranteed season on the six-year deal he signed in 2012. Zimmerman has expressed a desire to return next season at a lower salary.
Zimmerman has played in 1,689 games with one team, and is in no mood to reflect on his 15 seasons with the Nationals with such a big game waiting to be played tonight.
“When you’re in the moment like that, you don’t think about that sort of stuff,” Zimmerman said. “I plan on playing more games. I feel like a lot of people think I’m not going to play more games. But I feel good, I feel like I can still be very productive beyond this year.
“That being said, it doesn’t make these games any less meaningful. They still have great meaning. Anytime you make the playoffs, you want to take advantage of it. I think nobody takes the playoffs for granted. But some people get there a lot, some people get there once, some people never get there. You never know when it’s going to be your last chance. So I think you obviously take advantage of it.”
Zimmerman could on a part-time role next year, similar to what Kendrick is doing this season. Start at first base a few times a week, be a replacement at first base where he is above average on defense and come up in big situations as a pinch-hitter.
“I do feel very lucky to be able to do what I’ve done,” Zimmerman said. “It takes some give and take on both sides, on the player’s side and the organization, the team side. They have stuck with me through some injuries and some bad times and obviously I stuck with them through some bad times as well.
“But I think the situation that I’ve had here has been a special one. For me, my family’s close, my wife is from here, so I’m lucky. I get to see my kids for 81 games. A lot of guys are on the road. So I look at it more as I’m lucky to be in this situation. I think a lot of guys would love to have this situation, but don’t really have the opportunity that I’ve had. So I think I feel more lucky than anyone.”