- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

CINCINNATI — Throughout his early season struggles at the plate, Ryan Zimmerman kept insisting he was hitting the ball hard and just not finding holes. At long last, the Washington Nationals third baseman appears to have reversed the trend.

With three hits Monday night against the Cincinnati Reds, Zimmerman continued a weeklong upswing at the plate. He entered last night’s game at Great American Ball Park with nine hits in his last 25 at-bats, including three homers and four doubles.

The 22-year-old, who has raised his batting average from .239 to .255, claims he hasn’t done anything different and is simply taking advantage of some good fortune at last.

“You can feel great and have one hit in five games and everyone thinks you’re struggling, but you’re really not,” he said. “Once you start hitting the ball and finding gaps instead of hitting it right at people, then everyone thinks you’re hot even though you’ve been feeling good for the last couple of weeks. But as far as getting some hits and driving people in, this week has been a lot better for me.”

In the wake of a splendid rookie season that saw him hit .287 with 20 homers and 110 RBI, Zimmerman is being closely scrutinized.

Washington manager Manny Acta, though, has been impressed with the young player’s ability to block it out and continue to work hard to snap out of his early season woes. Since May 2, he’s hitting .296.

“He’s worked very hard at it,” Acta said. “I really don’t know what the numbers are, but starting in [early May] all the way to here, he’s had a pretty good run. It looks like he’s back on track.”

Speigner learns

Two starts into his conversion from the bullpen, Levale Speigner is learning a hard lesson: He has to be able to get hitters out not just the first time around the order but the second and third as well.

On Monday night, the rookie right-hander cruised through a 1-2-3 first inning. But he struggled after that, allowing two runs in the second and three more in the third. The problem, he admitted, was he didn’t feel comfortable throwing more than two of his pitches. That may work in the bullpen, but it doesn’t in the rotation.

“It’s something I’ve done before,” Speigner said. “It’s not a big deal. But I guess I’ve lacked consistency throwing good pitches every time.”

Acta admitted his young pitcher, who is being used as a starter on a temporary basis while other regulars are hurt, is going to need to make the adjustment to succeed. But the manager also said Speigner will remain in the rotation for the time being.

“It’s easy when you come out of the pen and you just see three guys and you won’t see them again for a couple of days,” Acta said. “That’s why the second and third time around the lineup is tougher, not only for him but for every starter.”

Church sits again

Left fielder Ryan Church was out of the lineup for the second straight night with a bruised left forearm. Church, who was hit by a pitch Sunday, took batting practice and said he could play if needed.

“I’m not in the lineup, but I’m able to go,” he said. “But if not, for sure tomorrow.”

Acta didn’t want to take any chances, and though Church was available to pinch-hit, the manager said he would prefer to hold him out until tonight.

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