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Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman thriving with fresh start in playoffs

Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman thriving with fresh start in playoffs

Nationals teammates Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez each spoke at the end of the 2016 regular season how they viewed the playoffs as a new beginning, how their frustrating years were behind them and how the postseason offered a clean slate. All numbers start at zero again in October and they were determined to use that fresh start to their advantage.

First baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who also had a tough year involving injuries and struggles at the plate, including a career-worst .642 OPS, thought the same for himself.

"This year was frustrating for me. I'm not going to lie. I've always been a streaky guy and I just never really got going this year. Whether it was missing a little bit of time here or there, or just not being able to get going," he said.

"I was joking the other day. When you have a great regular season, you say 'I want to carry this into the postseason.' Then, when you don't have a good season, you say 'now I get to start a new one.' It's kind of whatever you want to make of it."

[RELATED: Lobaton unlikely hero as Nats win Game 2, draw even in NLDS]

Through two games in the Nats' NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Zimmerman has looked like a new version of himself, a revitalized offensive force delivering exactly what his team hoped he could provide. He has become more important in the Nats' lineup as a right-handed bat with All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos done for the season, and so far the results have been very good.

Zimmerman is 3-for-7 with a walk, having reached in exactly half of his NLDS plate appearances. He hasn't scored or brought in a run, but he is playing better than he was just recently when he closed the regular season going 4-for-19 in his final six games.

Zimmerman, 32, says he also just feels different.

"Something in this last week or 10 days, whether it was in [batting practice] or just having time to get healthy, I feel great at the plate," he explained. "I feel like I'm right where I need to be. I'm having great at-bats. I'm just excited it came. I guess it's better late than never."

[RELATED: Lobaton's series-changing homer defied odds, elements]

Zimmerman has been among several Nats players who weren't offensive standouts int he regular season, but have produced so far through two NLDS games. Catchers Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino, in particular, have been huge. Lobaton's three-run homer on Sunday essentially turned the series around.

Manager Dusty Baker, naturally, is encouraged by all of that.

"You need some untimely heroes during these playoffs. We're a team and we stress that all the time. Hey man, if one guy is not performing up to his level, then somebody else has got to pick him up," Baker said.

"This is how teams win. I mean, these guys, I'm proud of them to this point, how they have responded, especially with the injuries to front-line guys. I'm just hoping that some more guys step up."

[RELATED: Dodgers well-aware of Nats' Trea Turner and his threat to steal]

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Howie Kendrick hits two homeruns for Nationals against former team

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Howie Kendrick hits two homeruns for Nationals against former team

WASHINGTON -- Gio Gonzalez allowed two hits in six scoreless innings, Howie Kendrick hit two solo home runs and the Washington Nationals snapped the Los Angeles Angels' winning streak at six with a 3-1 victory Tuesday night.

Gonzalez (11-5) struck out four and issued three walks in lowering his home ERA to 1.79, now the best in baseball. The left-hander, who was three outs from a no-hitter July 31 at Miami, allowed his first hit two hits into the fifth against the Angels.

Los Angeles, which had climbed into an AL wild-card spot during its streak, lost for the first time since Aug. 7. Tyler Skaggs (1-3) allowed the two home runs to Kendrick and five other hits while striking out six in five innings.

Kendrick has homered in three of his past four at-bats after hitting a walk-off grand slam in the 11th inning Sunday night against San Francisco.

Playing their third game since Bryce Harper went on the 10-day disabled list with a bone bruise in his left knee, the Nationals got an insurance run in the sixth on a wild pitch by Bud Norris and an error on Angels first baseman Albert Pujols. That provided some extra breathing room when Cliff Pennington hit a home run in the eighth, the first run Brandon Kintzler has allowed since being traded to Washington from Minnesota.

With Ryan Madson's availability in question after dealing with a blister Sunday, the Nationals went with Matt Albers in the seventh, Kintzler in the eighth and Sean Doolittle in the ninth. Doolittle picked up his 12th save of the season and his ninth with Washington.

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Howie Kendrick's extra-inning grand slam finally puts Nats-Giants series to bed

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Howie Kendrick's extra-inning grand slam finally puts Nats-Giants series to bed

Howie Kendrick is still new to the Nationals. He doesn't have the same level of frustration with the San Francisco Giants as the rest of his teammates. 

But after watching teammate Bryce Harper suffer a freakish knee injury against the Giants on Saturday, the former Angels and Phillies second baseman decided to join the on-again off-again rivalry on Sunday night, finally putting an end to a series that felt like it took forever to finish.

A Pablo Sandoval solo home run off Max Scherzer tied things up in the seventh inning at Nationals Park, and after two scoreless innings, the two teams appeared once again destined to do this forever. After all, the two teams had played earlier in the day, a game that started less than twelve hours after their Saturday night game had ended, a game which was interrupted by a lengthy rain delay.

Daniel Murphy singled off Alberto Suarez to lead off the bottom of the 11th inning. Ryan Zimmerman followed with a single of his own. Anthony Rendon was then intentionally walked, which brought Kendrick to the plate.

Howie Kendrick did not mess around.

RELATED: HARPER AVOIDS MAJOR INJURY

The home run was the 99th of Kendrick's career and his first-ever grand slam.

And like that, the Nationals 6-2 victory finally put their series with the Giants to rest, after 29 innings in just over 24 hours.