The Washington Nationals cruised to a 14-4 blowout win over the Atlanta Braves Wednesday night, hitting two grand slams in a game for the first time since Josh Willingham did it himself in 2009.
Bryce Harper went 4-4 with two homers and a double and an ESPN analyst — the only one at the network who picked the Nats to win it all — is calling Washington’s lineup the best in the NL, so there are plenty of storylines to pull from this game.
What stands out the most, however, is just what a ride it’s been for first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who’s hitting .380/.426/.720 with four home runs, five doubles and 11 runs batted in so far in 2017.
Last season, Zimmerman set career lows in batting average (.218), on-base percentage (.426) and slugging percentage (.370).
He battled rib and wrist injuries all season, playing in only 115 games — though that was his highest total games played since 2013.
Zimmerman went through the course of the winter working on elevating his launch angle, as he ranked among the best in baseball in exit velocity but was unable to get the ball off the ground.
Whether he’s finally just healthy or his offseason work with Daniel Murphy is paying off, Zimmerman has looked like the player the Nationals signed to a $100 million extension in 2012.
He’s only played 14 games so far and Zimmerman has always been a streaky hitter, but his launch angle certainly looks like it’s improving.
If he truly has returned to form, the Nationals will finally be able to send out a lineup that features both Harper and Zimmerman at their best — a plan that was first envisioned when Washington secured the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft and was able to land the highly-coveted Harper.
Zimmerman’s best seasons of his career came in 2009 and 2010 when he won back-to-back Silver Sluggers, a Gold Glove and combined to hit .299 with 58 home runs.
He’s had several productive years since then, but has yet to return to the 142 OPS+ mark he set in that 2010 campaign.
At 32 years old, there’s no reason to think that Zimmerman’s washed up just yet.
He’s locked up for two more seasons after 2016 and $32 million over 2018-19, with an $18 million team option for 2020, so any improvements over last season will draw a huge sigh of relief from the Nats’ front office.
The season is only approximately 10 percent through, but the early returns on Ryan Zimmerman are the best they’ve been in years.