PITTSBURGH — Ryan Zimmerman can’t help but smile when he talks about the Washington Nationals’ offense.
“It’s just so much fun to be part of this lineup,” the veteran first baseman said before the Nationals played the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night at PNC Park. “We have guys who are hitting well up and down the batting lineup. We don’t have a weak link right now.”
Zimmerman then paused and added that the Nationals’ lineup puts pressure on players other than opposing pitchers.
“The way we’re going, you don’t want to be the guy who stops the line from moving,” Zimmerman said. “You want to make sure you keep doing your part.”
No one can accuse Zimmerman of being a drag on an offense that went into Wednesday averaging a major league-best 6.11 runs a game. He was hitting .385/.429/.785 with 13 home runs through 37 games while topping the National League with 52 runs scored, 15 doubles and 38 RBIs.
At 25-13, the Nationals had the best record in the National League.
Much has been made of how Zimmerman, with the counsel of Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy, has used advanced metrics to add lift to his swing — launch angle as it is referred to by sabermetricians — to restore power to his game.
Zimmerman, 32, has had six seasons with at least 20 home runs in his 13-year career but none since 2013. However, he downplays the mechanical changes.
“I’ve made some tweaks that have helped me drive the ball a little but it’s not like I completely overhauled my swing,” Zimmerman said. “I think it you went back and looked at video from the rest of my career you really wouldn’t detect much that is different.”
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo believes the biggest difference for Zimmerman is health. Zimmerman was limited to 61 games in 2014, 95 games in 2015 and 115 games last season by a variety of injuries that included strains of both hamstrings, a fractured right thumb, plantar fasciitis in his left foot, a strained left ribcage and a bruised left wrist.
During those three seasons, Zimmerman batted .242/.300/.420 while averaging 12 home runs.
“It was never a case of thinking Zim didn’t have skills anymore but a matter of him being banged up and missing so much time that he had a hard time ever getting into a rhythm,” Rizzo said.
Many people around baseball, though, did not share Rizzo’s view. Various scouts and executives felt Zimmerman had been reduced to being a part-time player and his 11-year, $135-million that runs through 2019 would be impossible for the Nationals to get off the books without pay down much of it.
Not that the Nationals would want to get rid of the contact now.
Zimmerman admits that there were times when he wondered if the injuries would ever stop. However, he is also a positive person by nature and kept hoping for the best.
“On the worst days, I would wonder if had a dark cloud hanging over my head,” Zimmerman said. “I’m not much a pouter, though. I don’t believe if does any good to feel sorry for yourself. I felt the best thing I could do was just keep working and doing everything I could to get healthy again.
“It’s a good feeling to be able to produce again and be the player I know I’m capable of being. “That being said, it’s still early in the season and there’s a long way to go. It’s a good start and I’m happy about that.”