Ryan Zimmerman K’d on a foul-tip strike three, swinging at a 96.5 MPH 0-2 fastball up high and inside from Miami Marlins’ southpaw Trevor Rogers with a runner on third and two out in the first inning on Sunday, in the series finale of the three-game set in Nationals Park.
Rogers started Zimmerman off with a changeup, up and in, then followed up with back-to-back fastballs, both away, and both fouled off, the second into catcher Sandy León’s mitt.
The second time up, with two on and two out in the third, Rogers, 23, started Zimmerman, 36, off with back-to-back changeups, both of which Zimmerman fouled off, falling behind, 0-2, quickly. But the lefty left the 96.7 MPH fastball he followed up with up in the zone and gave up a three-run home run that was the difference in Washington’s 3-1 win.
“He went out there the first at bat and Rogers’ fastball gets up on you a little bit, you know,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said after the game. “And as we talked about, [Rogers has] a good changeup and a good slider. [Zimmerman] got caught by surprise I think the first at bat, second at bat I saw his timing was a little bit better, a little bit more on time, and he was able to get the ball out over the plate and he smoked it.”
“You just want to take back that one pitch,” Rogers said, as quoted in the Miami Herald, “but that’s the game of baseball. Sometimes it’s decided by one pitch.”
“I mean it’s a good fastball,” Zimmerman said of Rogers’ mid-90s four-seamer.
“He’s got some good stuff, he’s got a chance to be a pretty good pitcher. I think — I haven’t looked at the video, I don’t know if he tried to go up out of the strike zone kind of like he did in the first at bat. He made two really good pitches in the first at bat, he threw me a first-pitch changeup, which — it’s hard to pull the trigger on a first-pitch changeup when you’ve never seen a guy throw you a pitch before. And then he threw a really good heater, middle-in, and then an 0-2 heater right at the the top corner of the strike zone. Then the second at bat I kind of just said I wasn’t going to get beat on the heater and he threw me two decent changeups to start and yeah, I was just ready for the heater, and it’s kind of funny how sometimes on 0-2 you just simplify it and try to hit the ball hard, and sometimes those are your best swings.”
Zimmerman’s home run was his fourth in 49 plate appearances, over which the veteran in his 16th major league season has put up a .319/.347/.596 line. He’s played sparingly as the Nationals’ manager tries to get expected everyday first baseman Josh Bell going, but thus far Zimmerman, who opted out of playing in 2020’s 60-game season, has produced when called upon.
“He prepares himself really well every day,” Martinez said.
“He comes in, he makes sure he gets his swings, does a lot of different things with [Hitting Coach Kevin Long] in the cage to keep him ready. He’s always ready.
“We know Zim from playing every day, this is something new for him. But he’s taking to it really well, and like I said, the key now is to keep him sharp, and keep him ready and try to get him in there when we deem we can.
“We’re doing the best we can with that and he understands the situation, but he’s ready, which is also awesome. We had another guy like that as you guys all know, with Howie [Kendrick].
“As much as I want to play these guys every day, we’ve got to keep an eye on them. We got to keep them fresh, and like I said, we’ve got Josh Bell here now, who’s started to swing the bat a lot better since he came off the IL, and we’ve got to get him going too, and keep him fresh.”
Zimmerman, even after stepping away from the game last summer, has stepped back in to help the only team he’s known as a professional. And on the field and in the clubhouse, the Nationals are happy to have him back.
“He’s been great,” Martinez added. “Like I said before, he understands his role. When he gets an opportunity to play he’s playing really well. We’ve got to keep him fresh, he understands that, and I’m going to get him opportunities to play when I can. We’ve got two really good first basemen here, so just getting him at bats and keeping him consistent helps him, and like I said, the biggest thing is to keep him healthy for the duration of the year.”