Somehow Ryan Zimmerman, milquetoast and wholesome Washington National for life, has become a bit of a divisive figure among Nats fans, who have been stressing over how the 34-year-old, 15-year veteran is going to be worked back into the lineup after a 53-game absence on the Injured List as he tried to get over another struggle with plantar fasciitis.
Zimmerman’s career has been significantly impacted by a right shoulder injury which forced him to move from third base to first, and a string of other injuries over the last five years have led to a number of stints on the DL/IL, and the Nats have been doing well without him available the last few months.
Is his return going to mess with the chemistry they’ve developed? Will the desire to see if he’s able to get up to speed cost others who have been producing at bats?
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters this past week that Zimmerman would work his way back slowly with the players who’ve handled first base since late April remaining in the lineup as well even with Zimmerman back in the mix.
“I’ve talked to him about it,” Martinez explained, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman in the lead-up to Zimmerman’s return.
“He’s not going to come here and play every day nine innings. And he understands that Howie [Kendrick] and Matt [Adams] are both doing well, so they’re going to get some playing time as well.
“For me, it’s a good problem to have. Because regardless if they start or not, you’ve got two guys on the bench that can really do some damage somewhere along in the game. That’s a good problem to have, for me. We’ll figure all that stuff out once he’s ready and he gets here. And we’ll see how he’s doing on a daily basis.”
Kendrick, 35, has been handled carefully thus far this season, and had a .328/.381/.575 line, 10 doubles, and 12 HRs in 64 games and 210 plate appearances heading into Friday night’s series opener in Detroit.
Adams, 30, has been swinging a hot bat as of late, with nine hits in his last nine starts, seven of them extra base hits, and six of them home runs, with a .778 SLG in those games, and over his first 56 games and 160 PAs this season, he has hit eight doubles and 12 home runs total, with a .250/.281/.539 line overall on the year.
“We’ve had these conversations throughout this whole process and [Zimmerman] gets it,” Martinez reiterated before the first of three with the Tigers, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr.
“The big thing is to keep him healthy. I told him: ‘You get back, we’ll find ways to get you days off. I got to play Matty, I want to play Howie. We’ll rotate you guys.’ But the biggest thing is keep him healthy, keep him on the field, so he can help us.”
“He’s the kind of guy who could carry you for a month and a half, two months,” the second-year skipper added.
“So hopefully he’s just another spark in our lineup and he can come here and help us win.”
“However Davey wants to use me, wants to use Matty, wants to use Howie, I mean, I just want to win games,” Zimmerman said in the visiting clubhouse in Comerica Park.
“I think that’s the point where I’m at. They’ve been doing an awesome job, it’s been fun to watch them and now I’m just happy to come up here and be a part of that, and contribute any way I can. I mean, you guys know me, I’m not going to demand anything, or — I’m just happy to be back, happy to be healthy, happy to be able to contribute however I can. Like I said, those guys have been doing an unbelievable job, and I like to think of it more as just another weapon that we have now that can help us win games, cause up here that’s the ultimate goal, the way this team has been playing the way we’ve kind of turned it around, it’s been fun to watch and now it’s going to be fun to be a part of it too.”
Kendrick started at first last night, with Zimmerman serving as the Nats’ DH in the Tigers’ home, and Adams getting a night off against left-hander Daniel Norris.
“It’s nice for us to come here,” the Nationals’ ‘05 1st Round pick said.
“With the way Howie, the way Matt, and Parra, the way they’ve all been swinging the bat, to have that extra hitter I think is an advantage for us this series.”
Kendrick went 2 for 4 with two doubles and two Ks.
Zimmerman legged out an infield single in his first at bat since April 27th, which is probably not an ideal way to get on at this point.
He walked in his second plate appearance, and finished the night 1 for 3 with a walk and a K.
And that infield single? What did his manager think?
“I started laughing,” Martinez said. “Who would have thunk it?”
“All of a sudden first ground ball and he beats out an infield hit, but to me that’s a testament to how he plays and what he means to us.”