VIERA FL - FEBRUARY 25: Ryan Zimmerman #11 of the Washington Nationals poses for a portrait during Spring Training Photo Day at Space Coast Stadium on February 25 2011 in Viera Florida. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Three weeks after he'd suffered the injury which would eventually be diagnosed as a torn abdominal muscle, and just days before he'd finally undergo surgery to correct an issue which had arisen during Spring Training and been aggravated on April 9th in a game against New York, Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman was asked about the role the Nationals' 26-year-old so-called Face of the Franchise, Ryan Zimmerman, played on his team and what they would have to do to get by without him for the next six weeks...
"Nobody has more respect for Ryan Zimmerman than I do," Riggleman said, "He's a ballplayer, I've said that many times. He's not a hitter, he's not a slugger, he's not one thing. He's everything. He's a great base runner, he's a heady player, he's a good hitter, he's a run-producer. He's all those things. But, I really don't give it any thought. We play with the twenty-five we have, and I'm very proud of the way those twenty-five go after it every day. So, it's an opportunity for some other people to show what they can do, and they're getting that opportunity and they're playing hard and they're impressing me with their efforts. So, I just want Zim to get healthy and when he comes back, be 100% and when he [does] there's going to be a lot of baseball left."
96 games. There is still a lot of baseball left. Ryan Zimmerman returns to a Nats' lineup tonight that went 27-31 without him in the lineup, playing close to .500 ball in spite of the fact that the offense has produced an NL-worst .229 AVG, the second-worst OBP (.301 to the Padres' .300) and the third-worst SLG (.360) and the league's unluckiest .274 BABIP.
After around two months without Zimmerman in their lineup, with the Nationals having endured a stretch of five-straight losses on the road against Baltimore and Milwaukee, and just after discovering they'd be without Adam LaRoche (torn labrum, rotator cuff issues) for a significant period of time, Jim Riggleman was once again asked about the difficulty of competing without two-thirds of what was supposed to be a potent middle of Washington's lineup. "It's hard to really put into words," Riggleman said, "because of the great respect I have for them, Ryan and Adam LaRoche, but every club has this. Chase Utley has not played until recently. Josh Johnson is not pitching. Every club has people hurt and you've still gotta win games."
The Nats were able to win six of eleven on the recently-concluded road trip, which according to the Washington Times' Amanda Comak (@acomak) on Twitter, "was [the] Nats first multi-city winning trip in 3 [three] years." They enter the nine-game homestand which starts tonight just six games under .500, having won on the strength of a starting staff that's allowed two earned runs or less in eleven of their last thirteen starts, and a defense that's now gone 104.2 innings without an error, this past week surpassing a franchise record for innings-without-an-E that had stood since 1977.
And now tonight, the Nationals reinsert a Gold-Glove-winning, Silver-Slugger-owning, former 1st Round pick back into their lineup. It's like acquiring a player in a trade as Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman suggested weeks back when the severity of the injury was first diagnosed. When the Nationals' manager makes out his lineup card he'll return to placing Zimmerman's name third and at third base. (Sorry, Jerry Hairston, but thanks!) The Nats Park player cards on the wall of the team store near the Center Field Gate will once again feature what's now a no-doubt dusty image of the team's first 1st Round pick.
Zimmerman was 8 for 21, (.381/.435/.619), with three doubles and a triple in six rehab starts in the Nats' system, and he reenters action with the .357/.486/.536 line he accumulated in the eight games he has played this season...and luckily for Washington, he's now halfway through the month of June when he'd usually suffering through his annual June swoon, (.257/.324/.411 career in June vs .293/.356/.516 in May and .302/.377/.487 in July.) Even if he starts out slow, NatsTown will welcome no. 11 back to the nation's capital tonight, and welcome back a team that's struggled just to stay afloat without their Face in place at third.