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Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman hoping to put 2016 behind him, bounce back in ‘17

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Mike Rizzo, Dusty Baker and Ryan Zimmerman have reason to believe the Nationals’ first baseman will bounce back in 2017.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Zimmerman finished his twelfth major league season with a .218/.272/.370 line, 18 doubles and 15 home runs in 115 games and 467 plate appearances.

Zimmerman, 32, ended up at a career-worst -1.3 fWAR, down from 1.2 and 0.6 in the two previous, partial, injury-impacted seasons in 2014 and ‘15, respectively, with a career-low 67 wRC+ and .248 BABIP last season.

During the recently-completed Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center, both Washington Nationals’ GM, Mike Rizzo, and manager, Dusty Baker, did talk about why they think their first baseman can bounce back from the rough season Zimmerman struggled through.

“Number one, he's healthy,” Baker said. “He started out Spring Training and I had to program him because of his foot (plantar fasciitis). I had to kind of bring him along slowly to make sure he started the season healthy. I think the fact that he is starting the season healthy, the fact that this guy is a quality guy, team leader. He didn't like the year he had.

“I got four or five guys that didn't like the year they had, probably.

“You know, you look on the back of your bubble gum card, we all have years that we wish we could erase from our bubble gum card but it's there.

“I think he's going to have a big year, plus we need him to have that. Again, you know, we'll see. He started working out early, you know.”

“I like the bat speed,” Rizzo said when asked for what he saw that made him think Zim could bounce back.

“I like the bat path. He had a good approach at the plate. The peripherals say that he’s going to have a normal Ryan Zimmerman season next year.”

It’s not just Baker and Rizzo looking at things through Nationals-colored glasses.

[ed. note - “Nats fans grew tired of hearing about Zimmerman squaring the ball up even though it didn’t fall in (he was 13th in the majors in average exit velocity - 94.1 mph).”]

Fangraphs.com’s Tony Blegnino wrote recently about the first baseman potentially returning to at least some semblance of his former self:

“Now for a player with tons of upside above his traditional 2016 numbers: Ryan Zimmerman. His overall, liner and grounder authority paced NL first basemen, and his fly-ball authority was well above average, as well. Expect serious upward regression in his liner rate moving forward, with a possible upward move in his fly-ball rate, as well. His walk rate did take a major hit last season; positive regression is possible here, as well, as his walk-rate percentile rank was higher than his K rate percentile rank each qualifying season from 2009 to 2015. This guy is not through just yet.”

Baker joked at the Winter Meetings that he looked forward to getting to see all his players at Winterfest this past weekend, so he could subtly check out what kind of shape they were in at this point in the winter.

“I get to see all those guys on Friday and tap 'em on the stomach and tap 'em on the butt to see -- they don't know what I'm doing, they think I'm saying hello, but I'm really checking for, you know, fat content, to see how much eating they can continue to do over the holidays.”

So how did Zimmerman look?

“Zim is looking real good,” Baker said. “I mean, he’s so far ahead of last year, because he had that foot going into Spring Training. I had to really kind of program and ask him how he’s doing every day and start him off with two innings, three innings, you guys remember. So he’s way ahead of where he was in Spring Training [last year].”

“I think I ended the season strong last year,” Zimmerman said, in looking back at the 2016 campaign on Sunday.

There were positive signs in the NLDS, when he went 6 for 17 with three doubles and three walks in five games, but overall it was a down year in D.C. for the Nationals’ ‘05 first-round pick.

“Last year was obviously a tough year for me,” he continued. “I expect more out of myself than I think anyone expects out of me. I was disappointed in what I did last year, but that’s the great thing about baseball, is that was last year and I can kind of move on and I have three years and an option left on the contract I signed and I plan on living up to that contract and performing like I’m supposed to perform.

“I started working out two or three weeks ago, and I think last year I felt — body felt good, I had a couple of things, but other than that, this year just look to stay healthy and I feel like I put last year behind me and I’m looking forward to this year.”