Ryan Zimmerman labeled the season “brutal” because his foot stopped everything else. His always-grumpy shoulder felt well, there was no oblique issue to deal with, his legs were perky. But, his foot kept stalling the season out with moderate tears. Plantar fasciitis was the diagnosis. Might as well have been listed as “pain in the butt.”
Because that’s what it seemed to Zimmerman. His sore right foot made his returns slow. It also wouldn’t tear through all the way to provide an odd bit of comfort with the injury. Fully torn fascia can lead to quicker, and better, healing. His was partially pulled apart. Twice. So, he spent days on a treadmill which helped support his weight. Weeks away from the team with Double-A Harrisburg or Single-A Potomac (though he minimized that time as much as possible). He watched with envy and built back up, returning Sept. 1 to endure poking from clubhouse and equipment manager Mike Wallace that he was a “September call-up.”
The questions when Zimmerman returned were anchored in how much he would play, and if he would remain healthy. Davey Martinez made clear -- again -- that a healthy Zimmerman is the team’s starting first baseman. Matt Adams would play in matchup situations. Howie Kendrick would start over there on occasion, too.
Since he’s been back, Zimmerman has played seven of a possible 10 games, starting six. He’s hitting .304 with three homers and 10 RBIs. Wednesday’s three-hit night in a 6-2 Washington win gave his numbers a big boost since this is small-sample-size theater. However, this is of note because of the hand-wringing associated with his return, as well as his propensity for surges.
Zimmerman is almost 35 years old -- and mocks himself by using an imaginary walker during his home run celebrations. Kendrick, because he was nursed along rightly by Davey Martinez, put together an excellent year. Adams did standard Adams things (20 home runs, low batting average, subpar fielding). Zimmerman remains the best defender among them. Kendrick has been the best hitter this year.
So, then who should play? Martinez has made a clear decision. Adams’ playing time has dipped since Zimmerman returned. He’s started three games, plus came off the bench twice to pinch-hit, his original and best role. Kendrick has made five starts -- two as the designated hitter since the Nationals are playing at Minnesota to start this week.
Zimmerman, like Kendrick, needs to be regularly revolved out of the starting lineup in order to preserve his health. Martinez could switch their roles Thursday -- putting Kendrick in the field for a night and using Zimmerman as the designated hitter. Adams could receive a shot, too, since Minnesota is throwing right-hander Kyle Gibson. Martinez has options.
Which was the point all along. Zimmerman opened the season as the starter. Kendrick expected at-bats through being multi-positional. Zimmerman’s injury put Kendrick at first base much of the year. The Nationals received the best offensive year of Kendrick’s career. They were lucky in some ways.
Now, with Zimmerman healthy, and next year’s contract situation looming, he has a final two weeks to show something. Zimmerman has been streaky -- in both directions -- his entire career. He told NBC Sports Washington months ago he knows he needs proof he can still play when healthy in order to return next season. This is his final shot to do so.
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