Ryan Zimmerman was 5 for 14 with a double and a sac fly during his rehab stint with the Potomac Nationals in the only 15 plate appearances he made between April 12th when he fractured his right thumb sliding back into second base on a pickoff play in Atlanta, Georgia's Turner Field and his return to the majors tonight in Nationals Park.
Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams told reporters before Tuesday night's game against the Philadelphia Phillies that he wasn't worried about Zimmerman's lack of at bats, because the 29-year-old, middle-of-the-order bat has never needed too many to get comfortable.
"He's such a good athlete that he can handle it," Williams said. "He adjusts quickly. It's evident by his Spring Trainings, and him being one of the first guys ready to play in games and he just adjusts quickly."
"We're not expecting anything special out there," the first-year skipper said. "What we're expecting is for him to play for us and hit in the middle of our lineup and be productive offensively and he expects that too."
In his first game major league game in almost two months, Zimmerman went 2 for 4 with two doubles and an RBI in the Nats' 7-0 win in the nation's capital.
He lined an 0-1 fastball to left field in his first AB, taking a 90 mph heater from Philly right-hander David Buchanan to over third and just inside the line.
He flew out to right on a 3-1 fastball in the third inning.
In the fifth, the Phillies walked Adam LaRoche intentionally in front of him to put two on with two out and Zimmerman lined to right on an 0-2 slider outside, doubling in a run to put Washington up 4-0 with his fifth two-base hit of 2014.
Zimmerman said walking LaRoche was actually the smart baseball play.
"[LaRoche] is obviously having a great year and an open base with a righty against a lefty that's the smart play," he told reporters. "That's the smart baseball play." He did make them pay for it, however, with the RBI double.
"We saw tonight what he can do offensively," Williams said after the win. "It's nice to be able to have it the way we wanted to have it initially. We're still missing a guy, but it was good. Guys swung the bat tonight."
Jayson Werth hit a bases loaded ground-rule double to drive two in and make it 2-0 in the third and LaRoche drove a run in with a groundout in the at bat that followed.
"Jayson got a 3-0 pitch and didn't miss it," Williams said, "and Zim drove in a run after them walking Adam, so it's good. All around good. Jordan [Zimmermann] pitched really well too and [Tyler Clippard] as well. Good victory for us."
Bryce Harper isn't going to be back for another month-ish, but with Zimmerman back, the Nationals are one step closer to fielding the lineup they intended to at the start of the season.
"It's the way we set out to do it," Williams explained, "but like we talked about today, it doesn't always work that way, but it's nice to have everybody back and Zim played well out there, so everything was good."
As for what it is about him at the plate that allows him to pick up a bat and hit like he does, Williams said it was really just natural ability.
"Just that he hits the ball the other way so well," he said. "So he can stay on a pitch, that's his natural stroke, so it happens quickly for him. Quicker than most because he can do what he did tonight, take a two-strike pitch and hit it down the right field line. So, I think that's the biggest thing for him, he just stays on the ball really well."
"I've just been fortunate enough to get a lot of at bats at a young age," Zimmerman said, "and kind of learn my swing and know which pitches I can handle and what pitches I can't and just not try to do too much when you first come back, I think that's the big thing. People try to make up for the time that they lost and if you try to do that then you're going to dig yourself into a hole. You've just got to stay within yourself and trust what you've done for years."
While he's shown he can hit at the major league level for ten seasons now since the Nationals drafted him with the 4th overall pick in 2005, he played left field for the first time in his career tonight and did so without any issues in spite of the fact that it was just his fourth game in the outfield as a professional, with the first three during his recent rehab stint.
The only real test for him was a line drive off Chase Utley's bat in the fourth that Zimmerman charged and caught easily.
"He's got to come get it and he's on the run," Williams said. "Fly ball too, it's a tough sky at that time of night. But he judged it really well and made the play. It was good for him to get four ABs."
The Nationals replaced him in left with Nate McLouth late in the game, but Williams said it was simply to give him a rest since he's just getting back.
"We wanted to get him out of there, not push him too quickly, so it worked good tonight. So, we'll evaluate tomorrow and see where we're at."