Bryce Harper: 'They didn't miss me at all in that lineup'
NEW YORK — Ryan Zimmerman likes to point out that over the course of 162 games, established ballplayers will produce their usual offensive numbers. But only a few weeks ago, it wouldn't have been unreasonable to doubt the Nationals third baseman would eventually get there, especially in the power department.
When the calendar shifted from August to September, Zimmerman found himself with only 15 home runs and 61 RBI to his ledger, well off the pace he has established over the first seven years of his career. Add to that his well-documented throwing issues and this was shaping up to be a wholly un-Zimmerman-like season.
But sure enough, as autumn approaches and the season winds down, here is Zimmerman going on a tear, building his numbers back up and proving himself right again. Things do have a way of balancing themselves out over 162 games.
"I'm just trying to hit the ball hard like I've been doing all year, and finally it's starting to come around," he said after clubbing yet another homer in the Nationals' 3-0 victory over the Mets on Wednesday. "Like I tell you guys all the time: At the end of the year, usually people have what they're supposed to have. I've been hot lately. Hopefully I can keep it going for these next 15-20 games."
With a solo blast in the top of the sixth inning of what was at the time a scoreless game, Zimmerman raised his season home run total to 22, matching his average output over the last seven years. All it took was a stretch of seven homers in nine games, not to mention six consecutive hits that sailed over the fence.
"I just like what I'm seeing there," manager Davey Johnson said. "When he does pull the ball, he seems to get to the ball quicker. The results: He's hit a bunch of home runs here in the last week.. I like the way he's going."
The Nationals also like the way Zimmerman is going in the field right now. After months leaving fans (and, admittedly, teammates) holding their breath every time he labored to make a routine throw across the diamond, he now appears to be firing the ball with conviction and accuracy, including two impressive plays during Wednesday's win.
"I don't know how he's felt all year, but I think he just is more confident with it," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "Obviously it helps to have a healthy shoulder and everything intact. But I think the more he fires good throws over there, he builds confidence and gets to where he's not thinking about it."
Zimmerman attributes much of his improved throws to the gradually improved condition of his surgically repaired right shoulder. Recovery has taken much longer than he ever expected, but he finally feels strong enough to make the kind of overhand throws that had been such a struggle earlier this season.
"I think I still have a ways to go," he said. "But where I was at the beginning of the year, to where I am now, is obviously a lot better. I still have some days every now and then where I'm not where I want to be. But overall, it's gotten a lot better, and I'm looking forward to having an offseason to kind of strengthen and do what I normally do. Hopefully next year [I'll] play the entire year like I have the last month or so."
And Zimmerman will be manning the same position he has held throughout his professional career, despite speculation earlier this season a change might be necessary.
"We ain't moving him to first, if that's what you're thinking, alright?" Johnson said with a smile.
Before they can think about their 2014 infield alignment, the Nationals still have 17 games to play in 2013 (at least). Winners now of five straight and 22 of 31, they find themselves a season-best 7 games over the .500 mark, though by virtue of the Reds' win against the Cubs earlier in the day, they still remain 6 games back in the NL Wild Card race with only 17 to play.
Time is precious right now, and the outcome of every game looms large. Players don't need to be reminded of this.
"I don't know how many more games we can lose," said right-hander Dan Haren, who earned the win Wednesday with six innings of 1-hit ball. "I know [Jayson] Werth was doing some math, but that math keeps getting smaller and smaller. It's like: We could lose 10, and then we could only lose eight. I don't know how many more games we can lose, but it's not many."