Jordan Zimmermann’s continued emergence as a dominant starting pitcher has become a Pivotal Play for the Washington Nationals.
In a season where Washington has dealt with an abundance of early-season adversity, Zimmermann has been the one steadying influence for the 21-19 club. The rest of the club’s starting pitchers – even former No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg – have had their struggles.
And offensively the entire season has been one frustrating compilation of at-bats, with Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore struggling to produce and regulars like Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, and Wilson Ramos taking turns nursing injuries.
Through all the struggles and frustration, Zimmermann has been a radiantly shining star and comforting presence, showing up every fifth day to deliver another ace performance to make everybody on the team feel better. He has become medicine for a club that has been good, but not nearly as dominate as the pundits were expecting.
The 27-year-old pitcher has become one of the league’s most excellent starters, working to a 7-1 record while posting a 1.69 ERA after eight starts. The winner of one-third of Washington’s games so far, Zimmermann is pitch-efficient and proficient at saving the Nationals’ bullpen; he’s hurled at least seven innings in six of his last seven outings.
Zimmermann’s seven victories are the most among National League pitchers and his 1.69 ERA ranks seventh in the circuit. Only Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright have stockpiled more innings of work than the Washington right-hander, who’s 0.87 WHIP is third-best in baseball.
A former second-round pick who has improved during each of his four-plus seasons in the major leagues, Zimmermann is giving the Nationals what the experts expected Strasburg or lefty, Gio Gonzalez to deliver.
Strasburg is considered one of baseball’s most revered starters because of his plus four-pitch repertoire, widely considered one of the best arsenals in the entire game – but Zimmermann has been better than Strasburg.
Gonzalez finished third in the NL in Cy Young balloting last season. The former Oakland Athletic has been dominant at times and has struggled in a few of his starts. While he’s been a solid member of Washington’s rotation, he hasn’t been Zimmermann.
Sometimes, the lesser known and less-often discussed members of a work place are the most important pieces to an organization’s success. That has certainly been the case for the Nationals so far this season.
Zimmermann takes the mound with far less national exposure and hype than the majority of the pitchers with which he shares a clubhouse. However, all Zimmermann does is post quality starts; one after another, every fifth day – like clockwork.
When the Wisconsin native took the hill in Los Angeles this week he halted a two-game National’s losing streak with a 7.2 inning gem while allowing just two runs. Earlier in the month Zimmermann started in Atlanta, halting a three-game skid while helping the Nationals win their first game against the division-rival Braves in six tries in 2013. In that victory Zimmermann threw eight dominant, shutout innings with eight strikeouts.
Zimmermann has become Mr. Consistency. When things are falling apart, he shows up with a tool belt on ready to fix whatever’s ailing Washington. His eight tremendous starts have been a Pivotal Play this season.
The youngest member of the Washington Nationals contributed this week’s Pivotal Play. In the interest of accuracy, we should make this week’s Pivotal Play plural, because second-year Nationals’ outfielder turned in a pair of them in his club’s Opening Day win over the Miami Marlins this week.
Harper, the National League’s reigning Rookie of the Year, began his second big league campaign by launching a pair of Ricky Nolasco pitches into the right field bleacher seats. The powerful slugger belted home runs on each of his first two at-bats of the 2013 season, initiating his first full season of big league ball in dramatic and historic fashion.
Prior to Harper’s multi-homer opening day effort, nobody as young as the Nationals’ left fielder had ever smashed a pair of home runs in an Opening Day game. At 20-years and just under 170 days old, the Nevada native became baseball’s youngest hitter to ever deliver two homers in a season-opening tilt.
The first home run Harper hit came in the opening inning of the season, with two outs and nobody on base. The 230-pound specimen got ahead of Nolasco 1-0 in the count after taking a splitter for a ball, then Harper guessed right on the right-hander’s second offering. Nolasco tried to throw a slider, which hung in the zone, allowing Harper to get the big part of his bat on the juicy breaking ball. The result was a 1-0 Nationals lead.
Harper’s second home run came three innings later, at the end of a lengthy at bat to lead-off in the bottom of the fourth inning. The 6-foot-2 inch outfielder jumped ahead of Nolasco 2-0 after taking a pair of pitches off the plate. Harper then fouled off two pitches before hitting a splitter off of the plate to run the count full. Nolasco’s 3-2 pitch to Harper was another slider that didn’t break the way the veteran pitcher would have liked, and Harper made him pay for the second time in as many chances.
The 85 mile-per-hour pitch was blasted in right field, sending the Nationals’ crowd into a frenzy and extending the club’s lead to 2-0. As Washington’s play-by-play voice Dave Jageler said, “Bryce Harper two and the Marlins nothing.”
Washington wouldn’t score again. Luckily for the Nationals, there was no need for more offense than Harper provided thanks to stellar pitching by Stephen Strasburg and the team’s bullpen.
Four days into the major league season, Harper’s two home runs still lead the major leagues. The No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, Harper clubbed 22 homers in his rookie season during a brilliant 2012 stretch in the major leagues. Most industry insiders are projecting that he’ll hit way more than 22 long balls this season.
But how many more? Could the phenomenon hit 30 in his second season? Are 40 home runs, an elite total by any standard, in play?
If Monday’s Opening Day win is any indication, you may want to start purchasing your tickets to Nationals games in the right field outfield seats. Bryce Harper – the contributor of this week’s Pivotal Plays – will pay you a visit.
Washington Nationals general manager, Mike Rizzo, is no stranger to making Pivotal Plays.
The architect of yet another banner offseason, Rizzo spent his winter trading for a new leadoff-hitting center fielder and insuring the return of 2012 team-MVP Adam LaRoche to play first base. Then on Wednesday, Washington’s top-executive pulled off a free agent addition that stunned the industry, signing veteran reliever Rafael Soriano to a two-year contract worth a reported $28 million.
Soriano, 33, was considered the best free agent closer on the market this offseason. Having saved 40 games in two of the past three seasons, the 11-year veteran is coming off an excellent 2012 campaign that saw him sport a 2.26 ERA in 69 appearances.
After spending the majority of his career in the American League, Soriano will now head back to the National League East, where he saved 27 games with the Atlanta Braves in 2009.
Soriano will be Washington’s unquestioned closer since he is being paid $28 million over the next two seasons. That means that 25-year-old former 10th-overall pick Drew Storen, who has a 40-save season on his resume, will likely serve as a setup man, alongside all-star arm Tyler Cllippard.
Having three trusted back-of-the-bullpen arms, all of whom have closing experience, is a great benefit to the Nationals and a luxury that very few other teams in baseball have. It is also a big reason why Washington may have the deepest bullpen in baseball and one of the finest-built rosters in the sport after Tuesday’s signing.
The Nationals’ pact with Soriano serves as this week’s Pivotal Play, but not because they had to sign him. With Storen and Clippard’s success over the past couple of seasons, Washington could have very easily entered this year without having upgraded their bullpen and nobody would have thought twice about Rizzo’s decision not to spend more money on relief pitching. Alas, that is not how elite teams operate.
Rizzo did something that wasn’t necessary, because he was thinking like a championship executive who is trying to position his team for a championship run. Rizzo wanted to enhance an already strong area. He wanted to hammer a nail into a foundation that was already sturdy to make sure that the ninth inning wasn’t a question. In baseball, the ninth inning is never a question for a team with designs on winning a World Series.
Soriano has posted an ERA over three just once since 2004 and his career strikeout rate (9.4 K/9) is an indicator of dominance. He has tallied a 2.78 ERA in his 453 big league appearances, and Soriano has struck out more batters than he’s allowed base hits to in each of his last eight seasons.
Bringing him to Washington means the Nationals made a good bullpen great. More than that it signifies that Rizzo understands how close his team is to winning a World Series. If he’s willing to make Soriano – who he doesn’t need – the highest paid reliever in baseball, than what isn’t he willing to do? That’s why Rizzo’s stunning signing of Soriano is this week’s Pivotal Play.
This week’s Pivotal Play was turned in by the Washington Nationals and returning first baseman, Adam LaRoche, who agreed upon a new two-year contract that will keep LaRoche in a Nationals uniform through the end of the 2014 season.
Both sides have been in contract discussions for a couple of months. However, while talking with LaRoche the Nationals were courting and acquiring other 2013 contributors. Similarly, LaRoche was initially demanding a third year from the Nationals and was flirting with other teams while playing a free agency market he entered into in the wake of a masterful season.
Now that the two sides have ended their breakup we can examine why Washington and LaRoche are a perfect fit.
From the team’s perspective, if LaRoche hadn’t re-signed the Nationals would have started Michael Morse at first base. He is a powerful slugger with a propensity for driving in runs. Morse’s offensive exploits (he has hit 49 home runs while batting .303 and .291 the past two seasons) would have played at first base nicely.
Morse is not nearly as good as LaRoche defensively, but he is a right-handed batter, a trait shared by several of the Nationals’ daily players. LaRoche, a left-handed hitter, will look to repeat on a prolific 2012 season that established him new career-highs in homers (33) and RBI’s (100) while he served as Washington’s unquestioned offensive MVP.
Reinserting LaRoche back into his first base role makes Morse expendable. Unlike last year when he played in left field, the Nationals now have three other must-start outfielders; Bryce Harper newly acquired via a trade, center fielder, Denard Span, and high-priced right fielder, Jayson Werth. As a result, there’s no room for Morse since he has too much value and would net Washington far too much on the trade market to keep around as a bench bat.
Resigning LaRoche was a Pivotal Play in its own right. LaRoche has hit 20 home runs in eight of his nine big league seasons and, at the age of 33, the chances of him doing it again are solid. He will also play a sterling defense and will likely drive in 85 or more runs for the sixth time in his career.
What’s more significant to Washington is that the team can now look to trade Morse, who should be able to net the Nationals a top prospect and a major league contributor, or possibly more. Maybe the Nationals can even ask for a stud left-handed reliever in the deal, one of the few things keeping the team from being built without any major flaws (at least on paper).
Regardless of what the Nationals decide to do with Morse, they’ve got their middle-of-the-order, left-handed slugger back and fans should be ecstatic about that. It took longer than both parties expected, but they worked out their differences and got back together. As a result, the National’s and LaRoche were contributors in this week’s Pivotal Play.
Robert Griffin III isn’t the only person in DC capable of making a Pivotal Play.
The Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo has made his fair share of them during his time in the nation’s capital. The intuitive executive made another important decision this offseason that should ensure that his club has a chance at a second straight National League East title.
This week’s Pivotal Play was Rizzo’s decision to re-up with his field manager, Davey Johnson, under whom the Nationals just posted their best season in franchise history.
The 69-year-old skippered Washington to a baseball-best 98 wins in 2012, guiding the team to the first playoff of its eight seasons in the nation’s capital. Johnson has now won at least one division title with four of the five teams he’s managed, and his resume includes a World Series title with the 1986 Mets.
While you could say that bringing the Orlando, Florida native back was a no-brainer for Rizzo, Johnson will turn 70 before Opening Day and has made it known that he doesn’t plan on managing again after this coming season. A decision could very easily have been made to go with a younger veteran manager who could guide the Nationals for several years to come.
But Rizzo will wait until next season to find a qualified candidate to replace Johnson, taking over a team that looks to be in the infant stages of a several-season run of success.
Johnson will manage the Nationals in 2013, and then will reportedly rejoin the team’s front office as an advisor and assistant to Rizzo and his staff. In the coming months, his role with the team will be as significant as anybody in the organization: he’ll be tasked with guiding the Nationals deeper into the playoffs than the opening round.
The Pivotal Play to retain Johnson makes perfect sense for several reasons:
First, the Nationals are close to being a championship team. They’re on the verge of being World Series-caliber, particularly when it comes to their pitching personnel. The team’s rotation is led by ace-starter Stephen Strasburg, 20-game winner Gio Gonzalez, and one of the league’s most underrated starters, Jordan Zimmermann.
Ross Detwiler will spend a full season in the Nationals’ rotation a year after emerging as baseball’s best fifth starter. The Nationals are one veteran addition away from having a rotation that is five-deep. If the team can sign a quality No. 5—somebody who can provide 195 competitive innings this season— Washington will have one of the best rotations in baseball.
Perhaps equally as important, the Nationals’ bullpen should be very strong again. Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard form a prolific late-inning duo and the team has a slew of middle-inning relievers to choose from. If Rizzo can add a lefty specialist for Johnson to employ against quality southpaw hitters, the ‘pen will have a chance to be elite.
But it’s Johnson who has the potential to make a pitching staff that is good on paper great on the field. His baseball acumen, late-inning savvy, and time around the game have all prepared him to guide a team on the verge of major post season success.
The Nationals could have made a splash hire or gone younger, but they knew they didn’t need to. Rizzo’s decision to ask Johnson to give the Nationals one more season is this week’s Pivotal Play.
With the leaves falling, the weather getting colder, and the MLB offseason upon us, I figured it might be time to turn our attention to baseball’s hot stove for at least a week.
The Washington Nationals are coming away with a franchise record of 98 wins, and a playoff appearance that ended just one called strike away from the National League Championship Series. Like the rest of the teams in baseball, Washington has plenty of questions to answer. But thanks to a young corps of returning players and a strong, deep rotation, the Nationals look like they’re built for sustained success.
This week’s Pivotal Play focuses on a potentially critical transaction that could ensure a second consecutive division championship campaign for the Nationals.
First baseman Adam LaRoche declined a $10 million offer for 2013, a wise decision for a guy coming off of a career-making year.
His 33 home runs and 100 RBIs were both career bests. He belted eight more long balls and drove in five more runs than any other Nationals regular. He also walked ten more times than any of his teammates, while posting a club-leading .853 OPS.
Rather than trying to enter a several-team sweepstakes for LaRoche’s services, the Nationals could make the pivotal play to allow him to sign elsewhere while the team allocates their funds in a different direction.
The proper (and pivotal) play here would be to move left fielder Mike Morse to first base to replace LaRoche. That would free up a starting outfield spot for a free agent acquisition that the Nationals could ask to play center field. Ideally, that center fielder would also hit at the top of Washington’s batting order, effectively curing two of the team’s major handicaps with one signing.
Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper could then patrol the corners with the free agent center fielder roaming gap-to-gap between them. The money the team would have spent on LaRoche could then go to locking in a gold glove outfielder and top-of-the-order catalyst who could help the club manufacture runs.
Call me crazy, but I think getting more hits and having more runners on the base path would help the Nationals’ offense, even if it means they’d subtract one feared middle-of-the-order bat. LaRoche was the team’s best slugger in 2012—if this continued in 2013, it would say more about the struggles of Ryan Zimmerman and Mike Morse than it would about LaRoche’s talent.
BJ Upton is the kind of player I’m talking about.
A Virginia native and a sterling defender, Upton smacked a career-high 28 homers while driving in 78 runs for the third time in his career. Upton would also provide speed on the bases, where he stole 31 bags this past season and 36, 42, 42, and 44 the four years before that.
He’s a career .255 hitter and he failed to get on base at a .300 clip for the first time in his career in 2012, evidence that he may not be the perfect solution as a leadoff batter. A shift in mentality that could result in more contact and less power, similar to his approach back in 2008, could be just what the doctor ordered for Washington.
Upton—or a player like him—is the Pivotal Play for the Nationals this offseason. Replacing LaRoche with such an athlete would improve their outfield defense and the ability to manufacture much-needed runs.
The MLB trade deadline came and went this week, and the Washington Nationals decided not to partake in any late-July trades.
It’s rare that a first place team with playoff aspirations allows the trade deadline to come and go without supplementing its big league roster with additional pitching depth or an extra bat for the rapidly approaching grueling late-summer stretch run.
National’s general manager Mike Rizzo was one of the few executives who decided against making a swap.
The Atlanta Braves, two-and-a-half games back of the Nationals for first place in the NL East, dealt for a starting pitcher. The Cincinnati Reds, the only NL team with a better record than Washington, added a reliever. The San Francisco Giants (first place in the NL West) brought in a new starting outfielder, the Los Angeles Dodgers (one game back of San Francisco) traded for a new third baseman.
Washington was one of the few contending teams that didn’t acquire additional big league talent. Rizzo’s decision to stand pat – which will be proven wise or the antithesis of that in the coming few months – is this week’s MorganFranklin Pivotal Play.
Rizzo, his top front office assistants and manager Davey Johnson clearly opted for the cohesion and chemistry of the Nationals’ clubhouse over a shot in the arm from outside of the organization.
The 61-42 ball club has the best pitching staff in baseball (Washington’s 3.29 team ERA is tops among the sport’s 30 teams) and an offense that has been much more consistent in the past two months than it was at the start of the season (The Nats are now hitting .256 as a club, which ranks 16th).
Starting shortstop Ian Desmond and top right fielder Jayson Werth currently on the disabled list, the team’s primary decision makers could have considered the additions of Desmond and Werth, when they return from their injuries, as deadline-like acquisitions.
I have no problem with the Nationals not adding a starting every-day player. I’m not sure where they would have played a new addition. The outfield is occupied when Werth comes back, as he’ll work alongside Bryce Harper in center and Michael Morse in right.
Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Adam LaRoche are all entrenched in their infield roles from third to first respectively, and nobody the team would have traded for was going to supplant one of those players.
So what could the Nationals have tried to deal for? A backup catcher? Maybe. But at what cost? I suppose Rizzo could have made a strength even stronger and brought in an arm.
You can never have enough starting pitching, especially when you’re planning on shutting down your ace sometime next month. I would have liked to have seen the team acquire a veteran with playoff experience, but not if it meant giving up prospects with bright futures to rent an elder arm for a couple of months.
As it is, when Strasburg gets shut down it looks like Washington will be leaning on Jordan Zimmerann (who’s gone six innings in all of his starts this season), all-star Gio Gonzalez and 2011 World Series champion Edwin Jackson as their top three starting pitchers to finish the season. That is a formidable trio but whether or not it’s deep enough to encounter October success is debatable.
Sometimes the best trade is the one you don’t make. If Rizzo’s plan works out and the Nationals encounter October success without having given up any future contributors, he’ll look like a genius.
This week’s decision not to make any major moves is definitely a Pivotal Play, though. Now we get to wait and see how the critical decision plays out.
Now that the All-Star Game is in the rearview mirror and with the unofficial second half of the Major League Baseball season beginning tonight, I thought we’d take a look at what role the Washington Nationals could play in this July’s trade deadline.
With speculation swirling that the Nationals could make a trade to land an elite starting pitcher and hope among the team’s fans that Washington could be in the market for an impact bat, there’s no denying that general manager Mike Rizzo will be as important to his team’s second-half push as any of the players on the team that he’s assembled.
Does Rizzo stand pat and let the Nationals continue to get healthier? If he opts to do so he’d be viewing right-handed reliever Drew Storen, who saved 43 games last season, as a trade-like addition who can help to solidify Washington’s bullpen.
Outfielder Jayson Werth’s return from the disabled list to bolster the center and right field would be no different than trading for a daily outfield in late July. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that veteran reserve and pinch-hitting ace Chad Tracy is on the mend as well.
Or will Rizzo decide that even with all three of those key pieces being re-inserted onto the active roster, the Nationals don’t have enough to make a deep playoff push? The team’s current plan to shut No. 1 starter Stephen Strasburg down at around 170 innings, well before the season ends and the playoffs begin complicates any forecast of how Rizzo is going to operate.
With Strasburg anchoring a rotation that also boasts an all-star lefty in Gio Gonzalez and a right-hander who has the longest streak of consecutive six inning starts in the National League, Jordan Zimermmann, the Nationals have enough pitching to feel good about their chances in any playoff series.
If Strasburg’s not pitching in the playoffs, however, and Gonzalez and Zimmermann are the first and second options ahead of Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler, the team’s chances to have better pitching than their adversaries decline. That’s where the idea of adding a front-line starting pitcher makes the most sense. That arm could replace Strasburg to give Washington three potentially dominant playoff arms, something every team is desperate for.
My guess is that Rizzo is going to make a minor deal or two, perhaps adding a pair of role players who he thinks gives Washington one tool the team is lacking. Perhaps it’s speed on the basepaths or power off the bench?
Aside from Danny Espinosa (who has stolen 14 bases), Ian Desmond (11) and Bryce Harper (10), Washington doesn’t have anybody who an adversary would view as a threat in the running game. Manufacturing runs is going to become increasingly critical as the summer wears on and certainly during the playoffs, when hits become rarer against sterling pitching staffs.
Whatever plan Rizzo puts in place during the late July trade season, his ability to execute it will be the Pivotal Play that the Nationals need more than anything that happens on the field in the upcoming weeks.
His decision on whether or not to shut Strasburg down is the single biggest decision he’ll make in 2012. And if he does shut him down, whether or not he replaces him could go a long way toward determining if the Nationals have a shot to make a deep playoff run this season, or if they’ll have to wait until 2013.
The Washington Nationals will be well represented in next week’s All-Star Game in Kansas City. The best team in the National League, the Nats will be sending a club-record three players to the mid-summer classic.
Currently a season-best 16 games over .500 and 4.5 games ahead of the rest of the pack in the NL’s Eastern division, the Nationals are a long way from the team’s 2007 and 2008 form of sending only one reserve (Dmitri Young and Christian Guzman respectively) to the all-star game.
It was a foregone conclusion that the club’s ace-pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez were going to be elected to the all-star team. What wasn’t as certain was the nomination of shortstop Ian Desmond, named an all-star for the first time. Tony LaRussa’s decision to name Desmond one of his reserves is this week’s pivotal play.
LaRussa, who retired this winter after guiding the St. Louis Cardinals to their second World Series championship in six years, is skippering the NL club in Tuesday night’s game of stars in Kansas City. He chose Desmond over a handful of other potential options at shortstop, like Houston Astros breakout performer Jed Lowrie.
While there are some people within baseball who feel like Desmond’s insertion onto the all-star roster was undeserving, an examination of the NL’s statistical leaderboard at shortstop indicates that LaRussa’s decision was the right one.
Desmond’s 14 home runs are tied (with Lowrie) for the most among all NL shortstops. The National also ranks first at his position with 47 RBI and he’s the only shortstop in his league with at least eight stolen bases and double-digit home runs. His 43 runs scored is the fourth highest total in the league and his 92 hits have only been topped by Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro.
There’s no denying that Desmond has been one of the league’s three finest shortstops, along with Castro and Lowrie. The fact that Lowrie was left off the roster is unfortunate, but Desmond is deserving of his nomination.
The 26-year-old, fourth-year major leaguer has already eclipsed his previous career high of 10 home runs, which he set in 154 games played back in 2010. Despite the fact that his season is only half over, Desmond is just two RBI away from tying last year’s season total of 49 (which he needed 76 more games to accumulate).
There’s probably a case to be made that Washington’s setup man turned closer Tyler Clippard deserved to be the team’s fourth all-star. A year after earning a win in the all-star game, Clippard was left off the roster despite a 1.83 ERA in 35 games a dominant run in his new ninth-inning role.
Desmond will still be able to travel as part of a buddy-system with Strasburg and Gonzalez (a combined 20-6 with 234 strikeouts) should both be expected to pitch at least an inning against the American League.
But putting them on the all-star roster took no thought. LaRussa’s decision to select Desmond was one of the most talked about of the selection process, and it was the right play to make.
A homegrown star who was drafted and developed by the Washington Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman has developed into a “face of the franchise” performer who is one of the Nationals’ steadiest building blocks. Playing through pain this season, Zimmerman has struggled to produce the caliber of offense expected of him as the No. 3 hitter in Washington’s lineup, but the 27-year-old has found other ways to contribute to his team’s winning efforts.
On Wednesday, Zimmerman made Nationals history when he laced a 2-1 fastball into centerfield for a one-out single. The hit was the 1,000th of Zimmerman’s major league career – a career that dates back to the Virginia native’s big league debut on September 1, 2005.
Zimmerman is the only player in Nationals history to amass 1,000 hits with Washington. His milestone-achieving line drive, which soared just passed the out-stretched glove of Colorado Rockies shortstop Jonathan Herrera on Wednesday is this week’s Pivotal Play.
The Nationals drafted Zimmerman out of the University of Virginia with the fourth pick in the 2005 draft. Taken three spots after the Arizona Diamondbacks picked Justin Upton to initiate the draft and just one pick before the Milwaukee Brewers selected Ryan Braun, Zimmerman was in the major leagues three months after the Nationals called his name on draft night.
The University of Virginia product wasted little time beginning his quest to become the first National to amass 1000 hits, roping out 23 hits in 20 major league games in his debut season back in 2005. A year later Zimmerman drove in 110 runs in his first full season in the major leagues, finishing second in rookie of the year balloting while compiling 176 base hits, the second highest total by a National League rookie in 2006 (behind only Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins).
Had it not been for injuries Zimmerman’s special night could have come much sooner. The Nationals’ silver-slugging, gold-glove third baseman missed 142 games over the past five seasons, and he already spent part of the 2012 campaign on the disabled list.
Despite playing through ailments and being in and out of Washington’s lineup, Zimmerman has managed to post a career .285 batting average while establishing himself as one of the finest third basemen in all of baseball.
Under team control through 2020, Zimmerman is going to be anchoring the left side of the Nationals’ infield for years to come. He’s a safe bet to become the team’s inaugural 2,000 hit member several years from now. But how far past the 2,000 hit mark he can press will go a long way toward determining his legacy, both locally and around the country.
If Zimmerman – currently playing through shoulder pain – can stay injury free for the remainder of the summer, then string a few healthy seasons together, he’s got a chance to become one of baseball’s most feared hitters.
For now, though, he’s just a terrific bat and a well-kept secret because he hasn’t been healthy enough to fully flourish since a 30-homer, 100-RBI season he pieced together back in 2009.
Wednesday’s pivotal play, crushing a 94 mile per hour fastball back up the middle for his 1,000th hit as part of a three-hit game, was a nice indication of what Zimmerman’s capable of when he’s not hampered by pain.
The hit was also a major pivotal play for the Nationals.