The Nationals need Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup to reach the next level in 2016. Nagging injuries have made it difficult over the past two seasons as “Mr. Nat” has become “Mr. DL,” missing a combined 168 games.
“The last two, three years have been frustrating for me,” Zimmerman said at Winterfest. “I mean, nobody wants to be on the field more than I want to be on the field. But unfortunately, some of those things happen. That’s not the amount of work you put in. It’s hard to go 10, 15 years without getting hurt. Unfortunately for me, it’s happened two or three years in a row, but the goal this year is to stay on the field with 145, 150 games.”
A broken right thumb followed by a hamstring tear knocked Zimmerman out for lengthy periods in 2014. Last year, it was a bothersome case of plantar fasciitis in his left foot and then a left oblique strain that forced Zimmerman to miss chunks of the season.
“We tried as as much as we could to play with the foot for as long as we could, and it got to the point where I don’t think I was really helping the team win,” Zimmerman said. “That’s what everyone wants to do, and if you’re not doing that it’s kinda pointless. I actually thought when I came back from the foot, I was playing probably the best baseball I’ve played since ‘08 or ‘09 before the shoulder and all that stuff. I felt great, then the little oblique.”
No doubt about it, Zimmerman was locked in when he returned from the disabled on July 28. Over his final 39 games of his season, he slashed .311/.372/.652 with 11 homers, 13 doubles and 39 RBIs. When the oblique flared up, Zimmerman was on a torrid pace, slamming six home runs and four doubles with 18 RBIs while batting .435 over 11 games. With Bryce Harper mashing, pitchers chose to go after Zimmerman instead, and the veteran made them pay.
“That was encouraging, to come back and play the way I played and give me some confidence now to roll that over into this season and do the little things that we were doing to get where I was, and hopefully have a whole season of that,” Zimmerman said. “Hitting behind Bryce and seeing how they pitch him - and rightfully so - and having a guy on base pretty much every time I’m up to bat. Them challenging me instead of him, which obviously most teams are going to do, I took that as a challenge and enjoyed it. My job is to drive in runs. Whether I hit .240 or .340, as long as I drive in runs, that’s what I’m really supposed to do. Last year, I did a really good job of that, I just need to stay on the field.”
Along with a managerial change, the Nationals overhauled their medical and training staff this offseason. The new group will use analytics to help prevent injuries while hopefully increasing performance. Zimmerman hopes the proactive practices help him get more at-bats.
“Technology and science is a big part of every sport now,” he said. “I’ve only been in the game 10 years and it’s changed dramatically since I’ve been there so I can’t even imagine what it’s like for trainers or doctors or even a guy like Dusty (Baker). Sports are one of those things where you have to evolve and you have to keep up with the times or you’re going to get passed by. I think it’ll be really helpful.”