The Washington Times - June 17, 2011, 01:19PM

There’s no way it could all possibly be attributed to his return, but it’s also impossible to ignore that the Nationals are 3-0 and are averaging just over eight runs per game since Ryan Zimmerman returned to their lineup.

Zimmerman’s presence alone just gives the Nationals lineup a more intimidating look. It’s certainly more difficult to get through their order when Zimmerman’s in it and he has slugging Laynce Nix and Michael Morse coming up behind him. 


“It’s noticeably different,” Nix said. “It’s another big bat in our lineup that we really need. Just his presence is going to help us throughout our lineup stay stronger and put the pressure on the other team.”

Thursday night, Zimmerman strode to the plate in the 10th with a chance to win the game with one swing. He didn’t but he also started the game-winning rally with a single up the middle and forced the Cardinals to pitch carefully to Michael Morse with Zimmerman on base. Instead they hit Morse and Danny Espinosa came up huge with the three-run walk-off.

“He’s the franchise player,” said Thursday’s starter John Lannan. “He’s been here the longest and he just brings something to the team that you can’t describe. Him being out there means a lot to us.”

“It really is hard to define,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said of Zimmerman’s impact on the lineup. “Every player is going up there battling 60 feet, 6 inches away himself. It’s just I think comforting to know we’re getting closer to having all our weapons out there. He’s just a great ballplayer. He does a little bit of everything. And he just gets timely hits. That leadoff single was big. But he’s the guy that a lot of the time is driving that run in with two outs in the eighth or ninth inning. I think it’s just uplifting for the rest of the ballclub that he’s in there.”

Zimmerman’s return highlights the Nationals best stretch of games this season as they go for their seventh consecutive win tonight against Orioles rookie left-hander Zach Britton.

And while his impact on the lineup is certainly part of the reason things have improved offensively, with the Nationals already notching two comeback victories this homestand and simply pounding the ball all over the park, shortstop Ian Desmond suggested one other reason: the fans.

“I think the biggest thing that’s creating this right now is that this stadium is full of people that are cheering for us, finally,” Desmond said. “They always say that winning brings the fans but starting with this series, the first night, there was a lot of people here and everyone was cheering for us. When the Cardinal fans started cheering, our fans started booing. That’s home field advantage.

“It makes you feel better when you know that there’s people cheering for you. There were times in the past where the game would be ending, 3-2, two outs and only half the people would be standing up. I don’t know if that was because they were for the other team or what, but you definitely feel the vibe now.”