The Washington Times - March 12, 2012, 06:44PM

VIERA, Fla. — Adam LaRoche just began playing spring training games on Saturday, a sprained ankle holding him back a bit from the rest of his teammates, so he was asked Monday about how he’s been seeing the ball these first few at bats. He noted that while he was happy with the way he was going, sometimes it’s a little difficult to see the ball in day games at Space Coast Stadium.

“Well, for some of us,” LaRoche quickly added. “Obviously Zim, (he’s) seeing beach balls right now.”

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Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman played in his fifth game of the spring on Monday. He was 2-for-3 with a double and a home run bringing his spring total to a startling 7-for-12 (.583) with five of those seven hits going for extra bases (two homers, three doubles). 

Asked to elaborate on his thoughts on Zimmerman’s performance, LaRoche pretty much summed up everyone else’s reaction.

“Oh, God, we need to get out here,” LaRoche said. “If we all get going like that, it’s going to be dangerous. He needs to sit the bench for a while. Play a little golf, relax for a little bit. He’s good to go.”

Zimmerman said he generally needs about 50 at-bats in the spring for him to feel as though he’s ready for the regular season. Fifty, of course, because if he says any lower than that it might seem as if he felt he didn’t need any. The spring is his time to prepare but, quite frankly, he doesn’t need all that much of it.

“That’s just more getting in all the different situations you need to be in,” Zimmerman said. “I think once you get back in it for like a week, a week-and-a-half, get the competitive juices flowing again, you’ve been playing baseball your whole life. It’s just getting back into it and getting going.”

It was with that in mind that Zimmerman, of course, was less impressed with his performance to date than anyone else. In fact the best thing to come out of Monday’s game, he said, was that in his third at-bat, this one against Adam Ottavino, he finally saw a curveball and a slider — two of the first breaking pitches he’s seen all spring.

He hit a double in his first at-bat and homered in his second. He struck out in the third at-bat and was thrilled with the development.

“It was good,” he said. “Obviously it didn’t look good, but it was good to see curveballs and sliders. Everybody throws so many fastballs. I try to wait it out, take some pitches to see something else, but the first week or two, the pitchers aren’t really throwing all their stuff.

“Obviously I’m happy with the first two at-bats, but the third at-bat was probably the best at-bat for me to get ready today, because I got to see some stuff that I haven’t seen.”

The gaudy numbers, of course, don’t really interest Zimmerman. Not down here. Not when they don’t count for anything except preparing for a seven-month grind. But the fact that Zimmerman is feeling confident in his timing is important.

After Zimmerman missed most of the first 2 1/2 months of the 2011 season, the Nationals are salivating at the idea of having him in the lineup, and healthy, for a full season. His spring performance to date has been a good start. 

“After I saw him hit in three at-bats I thought he was locked in,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “And he’s been locked in ever since. You talk about leading by example, he’s definitely leading by example. Everything he does. He’s just exemplifying the great player that he is.”