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Zimmerman brings his season all the way back

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Zimmerman brings his season all the way back

NEW YORK -- Mark DeRosa was talking to Ryan Zimmerman after last night's game at Citi Field, one in which Zimmerman had homered (yet again) and driven in a run (yet again), and noted how far the 27-year-old third baseman had come since his stunningly poor start to the season.

"You made it back," DeRosa told his teammate.

"Well," Zimmerman responded, "I made it back to where I guess it's respectable now."

OK, so Zimmerman's overall season numbers -- a .287 average, 22 homers, 84 RBI, an .835 OPS -- aren't off-the-charts good. Especially for a guy who has in his career cracked the 30-homer barrier, the 100-RBI plateau and has hit over .300.

But considering the hole he dug himself into through the season's first half, it's bordering on remarkable how good Zimmerman's season-ending stats will look.

On the morning of June 24, Zimmerman was hitting .218 with three homers, 22 RBI and a .590 OPS that ranked among the worst utility infielders in baseball. His right shoulder was barking, he couldn't drive the ball to the gaps and that 100 million contract extension he had signed during spring training sure didn't look too smart on the Nationals' part.

Zimmerman, as steady and level-headed a player as you'll find in the big leagues, admits now he was concerned.

"I'm OK with the slow starts, but not being able to swing the bat and do the things health-wise, I was worried about that," he said. "Because I know my body pretty well. Everyone in this room plays hurt. Everyone in every locker room. Nobody's healthy. And I've played hurt a lot just like everyone else. But it was a different kind of feeling. It made me nervous."

That morning of June 24, with the Nationals preparing for their series finale in Baltimore, Zimmerman received a cortisone shot in the shoulder. Doctors couldn't promise him it would work. And they couldn't tell him how long the effects of the shot would last.

But it did work. And it has lasted. Zimmerman hasn't needed another shot since, and he barely worries about his shoulder right now.

And the numbers he's posted in 72 games since that day in Baltimore are nothing short of dominant: a .339 average, .405 on-base percentage, 19 homers, 62 RBI and a 1.021 OPS.

He currently owns an NL-best 16-game hitting streak. He's also driven in a run in nine consecutive games, an ExposNationals franchise record.

"We're riding him," manager Davey Johnson said. "Zim's swinging the bat good and playing good."

It only constitutes one-half of a season, but had he compiled those numbers over six months, Zimmerman would be the runaway favorite to win National League MVP honors.

He won't, of course, win MVP. He might receive a handful of top-10 votes.

But he doesn't care about that. What preyed on Zimmerman's mind most of all during his early season struggles was the fact the Nationals were enjoying the best year of their brief history, and he (as the senior member of the club) was doing little to contribute to it all.

"That was a trying time, I guess you could say," he said of those June days when he faced an uncertain future. "That was about as tough a six-week stretch as I've ever had in my career. To be able to look up there now and know I've been able to battle back from that -- and more importantly, can actually help the team win now -- I'm pretty proud of it."

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Nationals fall to Padres as four starters sit on the bench

Nationals fall to Padres as four starters sit on the bench

WASHINGTON -- Ryan Schimpf hit a two-run homer and the San Diego Padres broke out the bats, beating the Washington Nationals 5-3 Sunday to avoid a three-game sweep.

The Padres had only one run and six hits with 31 strikeouts in back-to-back losses in games started by Washington's Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to begin the series. San Diego bounced back by matching its season high with 14 hits, with 12 coming off starter Joe Ross (2-1).

NL home run leader Bryce Harper was among four starters out of the lineup for Washington. The game was delayed 1 hour, 20 minutes by rain.

RELATED: HARPER AMONG 4 NATS' STARTERS OUT VS. PADRES SUNDAY

Four relievers, including Kirby Yates (1-0), pitched 4 2-3 hitless innings following starter Jhoulys Chacin's latest bumpy road appearance. Brandon Maurer worked the ninth for his sixth save.

Chase d'Arnaud had a two-run single and double for the Padres. Franchy Cordero singled in the third for his first major league hit and later doubled.

Daniel Murphy, Jayson Werth and Matt Wieters also did not start for the Nationals. All three entered as pinch hitters, but were retired. Washington opens a nine-game, 10-day road trip Monday afternoon in San Francisco.

Adam Lind drove in two runs. His RBI double in the fifth off Chacin pulled Washington closer at 5-3.

Chacin surrendered three runs on eight hits in 4 2-3 innings. He also had two singles and an RBI.

Ross, who allowed five in four innings plus three batters in the fifth, certainly had two tough acts to follow. Strasburg struck out a career-high 15 in Saturday's 3-0 win after Scherzer fanned 13 in Friday's 5-1 series-opening victory.

San Diego doubled the amount it scored in consecutive losses after just four batters. Following a two-out walk to Wil Myers, Schimpf hit his 13th homer of the season and second in the series.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Padres: RHP Carter Capps (Tommy John surgery) remains on track to face hitters this week, manager Andy Green said.

Nationals: Murphy missed the previous two games due to illness, Chris Speier said Saturday. Speier, serving as acting manager with Dusty Baker away this weekend to attend his son Darren's high school graduation in California, did not meet with the media before Sunday's game.

UP NEXT

Padres: RHP Jarred Cosart (0-1, 4.50 ERA) faces the Cubs at home on Monday.

Nationals: RHP Tanner Roark (4-2, 4.32) opens a three-game road series against Giants LHP Matt Moore (2-5, 5.28)

More Nationals: NATIONALS PLAYERS VISIT LOCAL LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL TEAMS

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Harper Among 4 Nats' Starters Out Vs. Padres Sunday

Harper Among 4 Nats' Starters Out Vs. Padres Sunday

National League home run leader Bryce Harper is among four starters out of the lineup for the Washington Nationals in their series finale against the San Diego Padres on Sunday.

Daniel Murphy, Jayson Werth and Matt Wieters also did not start for the Nationals, who open a nine-game, 10-day road trip Monday afternoon in San Francisco.

Murphy missed the previous two games due to illness, Chris Speier said Saturday. Speier, serving as acting manager with Dusty Baker away this weekend to attend his son Darren's high school graduation in California, did not meet with the media before Sunday's game.

RELATED: Nationals' Joe Ross to Start Against Team That Drafted Him

Harper is batting .337 with 15 home runs and 41 RBIs.

Washington won the first two matchups in the three-game series.

Joe Ross (2-0, 5.32) faces fellow right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (4-4, 5.74) on Sunday.