Late last month, as Ryan Zimmerman worked his way through a rehab assignment after he’d suffered a partial plantar fascia rupture on July 21st, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies that they were going to take their time getting Washington’s 34-year-old, 15-year veteran back up to the big leagues.
“We need for him to get his at bats, we need for him to move around and play nine innings in his rehab stint, you know,” Rizzo said. “I think that the fact that [Matt] Adams and [Howie] Kendrick are playing well at first base right now gives us the opportunity to really let Zim get some at bats in the minor league rehab before he comes to the big league club.
“Recently, when he’s come off the [IL], we kind of get him to the big leagues as soon as we can and he really figures it out at the big league level, which is often problematic. Zim’s swing is very complicated, it’s a very timing-mechanism swing, and the more at bats he gets down there, when he comes back he can really hit the ground running.”
Zimmerman returned from a 55-game stint on the Injured List for Plantar fasciitis in his right foot in late June, and went 13 for 43 (.302/.326/.419) with five doubles over 11 games before it ruptured on him and cost him another 36 games in what the 2005 1st Round pick said has been one of if not the most frustrating seasons of his career.
He did, however, seemingly hit the ground running upon returning, with four hits, a double, and two home runs (one a three-run blast on Friday) in his first four games and 14 plate appearances heading into the Nats’ third game of four with the Braves in SunTrust Park on Saturday.
“He’s swinging the bat really well, he’s playing well, and his body feels good,” second-year skipper Davey Martinez said after the 4-3 loss on Friday.
“I joke around with him about being a September call-up, but he’s doing what he normally does when he’s healthy, and that’s a good sign.”
“I feel great, and I think the body feels really good, I feel like I’m moving around pretty well,” Zimmerman said after the 1 for 4 game in Atlanta on Friday.
“I feel like I’m in a good spot to come back and help over this last month and obviously into the playoffs as well.”
Zimmerman acknowledged too that the extended time, eight games total between High-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg, helped him get ready to contribute down the stretch.
“The extended time I had in the minor leagues,” he told reporters this weekend, “the extra week or so, gave me a chance to be on my feet and play three or four nine-inning games, get some at bats, and then also the way Howie and Matt have been playing, I’m not going to have to play every single day. That’s going to help me stay healthy, and yeah, just excited to be back and excited to help out any way I can.”
“Right now Zim’s swinging the bat well, and I’ve said this before, a healthy Zim can carry us and yesterday he proved that again with a big home run, so give him another shot and play today,” his manager said, after penciling the veteran first baseman into the lineup Saturday night.
Zimmerman, who’s earning $18M in the final guaranteed year of the 6-year/$100M contract he signed with the Nationals in 2012, knows it’s not likely the team will pick up the club option in the deal that would pay him another $18M in 2020, though both sides would reportedly like to work something out after the Nationals likely buy him out for $2M this winter, but a last run with the team while he knows what the future holds would be a nice way to go into the offseason.
They have to get there first, of course, and Zimmerman knows it never an easy thing to do.
“It’s tough to make the playoffs,” he said this weekend.
“Any way you can get in whether it’s winning the division or going through that Wild Card game, anybody in this room or any room would take it.
As his teammate, Patrick Corbin, and Zimmerman’s manager said in recent days, however, winning the division is obviously preferable, though increasingly unlikely after three straight losses to the Braves this weekend, including Saturday’s 5-4 defeat.
The Nationals still sat atop the Wild Card standings though, with a +2.0 game lead after Saturday night’s game, in which Zimmerman went 0 for 4 with 2 Ks and a bases-loaded double play grounder.
“Anything can happen in one game, so it’s not a great scenario,” Zimmerman acknowledged in discussing the situation the Nationals will find themselves in if they end up in a Wild Card game.
“Obviously you’d rather win the division and get that five-game series right out of the shoot.”
“But with the way that we started,” he continued, “being just in the conversation and putting ourselves in the position that we’re in now, I think we’re all pretty proud of it and it’s special, but we still got some work to do.”