Before last night’s game against the New York Mets, first-year Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez addressed the struggling elephant in the room. Ryan Zimmerman entered the second of three in Citi Field with an ugly .111/.186/.204 line on the season after 17 games and 59 plate appearances. It’s looked even bit worse because Zimmerman’s been hitting in the cleanup spot and getting opportunities that he’s struggled to cash in.
With runners in scoring position, Zimmerman was just 2 for 21 (.095/.174/.333) with a home run and a triple, but Martinez said part of keeping the 33-year-old, 14-year veteran hitting in the fourth spot in the lineup was letting him know he continued to have faith that eventually Zimmerman will get going.
“Absolutely,” Martinez said.
“He’s a guy that needs to be in big moments. I feel that way. And I watched him from the other side for many years, and he had unbelievable big hits, and could carry a team for a month or two, so I want him up there in big moments.”
And how has Zimmerman, who opted to take his at bats on the back fields and in minor leagues games this Spring, rather than participate in Grapefruit League games, handled starting slow?
“He’s been great, he really has,” Martinez assured reporters. “He’s a professional. The other day I joked around with him and I pulled up some information and I told him that he was in the Top 3 in exit velo off the bat in the major leagues. At the bottom I had an asterisk, and I said, ‘You’re No. 1 in hard hit balls, so keep swinging.’
“He started laughing, so he’ll get going. He will. I know he will.”
Zimmerman’s 96.3 mph average exit velocity was third in the majors before the start of play on Tuesday night, behind only hard-hitters Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox (96.6 mph) and the New York Yankees’ Giancarlo Stanton (96.8).
What does that tell Martinez?
“I look at his at bats, and he hits the ball hard, he really does,” Martinez said.
“I have no concerns right now. Like I said before, you look back in his career and his Aprils have not been very good, so I think right now he’s doing well just by having good at bats.”
Is Zimmerman tinkering behind the scenes, or just sticking with the approach that’s getting him good contact but thus far hasn’t produced results?
“We don’t want him to tinker,” Martinez explained.
“He’s swinging the bat really well. He is you know, and like I said, one hit here, one hit there, and he’ll be in good shape.”
And the growing murmur about his approach to Spring Training at bats given the results in the first month of the season?
“You know the biggest concern about him not participating in Spring Training was that everybody felt he was hurt, and that wasn’t the case,” Martinez said.
“We were just trying to keep him healthy so that he could play come Opening Day and not have any setbacks, and he’s done that so far.”
Zimmerman came through with his third hit of the season with runners in scoring position in the seventh inning in Citi Field, driving Trea Turner in from second with a high exit velo liner to left that put the Nationals up 4-2. He also made solid contact on a ball in the fifth, lining out to left-center, and he ended the night 1 for 4 with a walk, K, and RBI, with three left on base.
Martinez said he was happy with the hit Zimmerman picked up in the seventh, and his at bats throughout the game.
“Big hit for him, big hit for the club,” Martinez said, “... and on any nice weather day, that ball he hit to left field is a homer, but he’s squaring balls up, like I said, he’s hitting the ball really well.”