Jul 21, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
The Nationals pulled out Sunday’s 5-4 win over the Brewers because of the bottom-of-the-ninth heroics by Jayson Werth, whose 2-out double scored Anthony Rendon all the way from first base and gave his teammates reason to mob him in the center of the diamond.
Werth’s clutch hit, though, was made possible only by Rafael Soriano’s blown save in the top of the ninth. Had Soriano been able to wrap the game up, we might well be talking about a different, red-hot member of the Nationals’ lineup who has found his stroke in recent weeks: Ryan Zimmerman.
Zimmerman’s 2-run homer in the fourth had brought the Nationals back from an early deficit and set them on a course to win the game. And it was an impressive shot, belted to deep right-center and over the out-of-town scoreboard, an opposite-field homer from a guy who hadn’t done that very often since returning from a broken thumb last month.
Slowly but surely, though, Zimmerman’s power stroke is returning, especially to the opposite field. Over his last 15 games, the veteran third baseman is hitting .418 with two homers, eight doubles, 16 RBI and an 1.113 OPS.
Zimmerman was never worried it wouldn’t come back. He understood that, as has been the case for fellow teammates who also recently came back from the DL, these things take time.
“When you miss that amount of time, it’s tough to come back,” said Zimmerman, who missed seven weeks with his injury. “You’ll come back and get hits, but to really get in that groove and get your timing down to where you can drive the ball, it takes a little while. I think a couple of us have missed extended periods of time. [Wilson Ramos] missed a little bit. [Bryce Harper] obviously missed a bunch. It’s not easy to miss that many games and then come back, basically in spring training mode, playing against guys that are in mid-season form.”
Zimmerman was particularly effective in this weekend’s series against the Brewers, going 6-for-12 with five RBI. That last stat has impressed manager Matt Williams more than anything else.
“What I’m most pleased with is him delivering hits with men in scoring position,” Williams said. “Regardless of homers. That will come. We know that he’s got power. He knows certainly what to do when he’s up there. It’s one thing to swing for the fences. It’s another thing to drive a run in when it’s needed. And today he did, with both of them. He’s been good.”
Zimmerman’s renaissance has coincided with the entire Nationals lineup turning productive at last. Buoyed by Harper’s June 30 return from his own thumb injury, the Nationals’ full healthy lineup has posted the NL’s highest batting average (.275) and slugging percentage (.444) while scoring a league-best 5.2 runs per game.
The payoff has come not only in tangible results, but in the peace of mind it gives every member of that productive lineup.
“I think it makes us so that not one person has to do everything,” Zimmerman said. “Literally from 1 to 8, anyone can go off that day and have an amazing game and drive in four or five runs. You don’t know who it’s going to be. As a team, as an offense and as a lineup, it’s fun to be a part of something like that, because there’s no more pressure. You just try to go out there and do what you do. And if you don’t do it that day, someone is going to do it.”
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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