Ryan Zimmerman, fresh off signing a one-year deal with the Nationals that will pay him $1 million to back up Josh Bell at first base, spoke Saturday about how he still wants to play an important role in Washington and hasn’t ruled out extending his career beyond the 2021 season.
“Me coming back this year was in no means for like a victory lap sort of thing,” Zimmerman said on a Zoom call. “I think you guys kind of know me better than that. I appreciate this fanbase and this city — much has been made about that. We’ve grown up together, all that kind of stuff. But this is about coming back because I still think I can play the game at a high level and I still think I can help the team win.”
The 36-year-old infielder opted out of playing in 2020, citing concerns over putting his mother — who’s diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — at risk. He returns to a Nationals team that has added Bell, outfielder Kyle Schwarber and starter Jon Lester this offseason with hopes of competing in a tight NL East.
Zimmerman’s role will be different from what he’s been used to over the past few seasons. The Nationals have cycled through left-handed first basemen such as Adam Lind, Matt Adams and Eric Thames who’ve been tasked with platooning with Zimmerman and filling in for him in the event he’s gotten hurt. He played just 137 regular-season games between the 2018-19 seasons, forcing the Nationals to lean on those backups often.
However, this time it will be Zimmerman on the bench spelling the switch-hitting Bell on his days off. The Nationals will likely use him as a pinch hitter against lefties; he has a career .917 OPS against southpaws including a .527 slugging percentage that’s nearly 70 points higher than his mark against right-handers.
If this new assignment is something Zimmerman thrives in, he would consider playing even deeper into his 30s.
“If I can kind of settle into this role and do well this year, by no means does this have to be my last year,” Zimmerman said. “At least, that’s the way I’m looking at it. I’m not coming back to get a last at-bat in front of fans. I’m fine with how my career would’ve ended if I didn’t come back.”