- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

PITTSBURGH — The Washington Nationals knew Ryan Zimmerman would go through some highs and lows during his rookie season. They just had no idea the highs would overshadow the lows so thoroughly.

With a sixth-inning single yesterday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Zimmerman extended his career-high hitting streak to 15 games, tops among all major league rookies this season. Over that span, the 21-year-old third baseman is hitting .419 (26-for-62), raising his average to a season-high .292 and even impressing his manager.

“Yeah, I am impressed by it,” Frank Robinson said. “I am not overwhelmed by it. Whatever this kid does is somewhat like you kind of expect him to do it. … He has indicated to you from day one that he is probably capable of doing a lot of this stuff.”

Zimmerman’s streak comes on the heels of his worst stretch of the season: a 1-for-25 slump that followed his June 18 walk-off homer against the New York Yankees.

“If I didn’t have that, my average would be pretty good,” he said. “But that’s part of the game. … I knew I was going to go through ups and downs. You just try to stay away from those long downs.”

Aside from that 1-for-25 stretch, Zimmerman has stayed away from prolonged slumps at the plate. And he has had a real knack for coming through in the clutch. He leads the National League with 39 hits with runners in scoring position.

“He is gaining that experience and putting it to use every day,” Robinson said. “You can see it in his at-bats. He has better quality at-bats and more of them now than he was having earlier in the year. Men on base, tough situations: He seems to be able to handle those.”

Rauch back

Reliever Jon Rauch closed out the game with a scoreless 11th inning after being held out Saturday night upon learning his wife had been in a car accident outside Washington.

Erica Rauch, who is pregnant with the couple’s first child, is OK now. But Jon Rauch didn’t know her status or her location during Saturday’s game, so Robinson told him to stay back in the clubhouse and attempt to gather more information.

“He wouldn’t have been in any shape to pitch last night,” Robinson said.

Rauch’s absence figured into the story line of Washington’s 7-6 loss to the Pirates. With only Saul Rivera and Chad Cordero left in his bullpen and Rauch unavailable, Robinson left rookie Roy Corcoran in for two innings and let him hit in the ninth inning of a tie game.

Corcoran wound up taking the loss.

Rizzo to interview

The Nationals are expected to interview Arizona Diamondbacks scouting director Mike Rizzo this week for an assistant general manager position, club sources confirmed.

Rizzo is regarded as one of the better amateur talent evaluators in the game, having helped put together a Diamondbacks farm system that was rated baseball’s best by Baseball America this season. He reportedly aspires to move up the ranks and pursue a GM job.

It’s unclear how Rizzo would fit into the Nationals’ front office, but incoming president Stan Kasten has talked about wanting to add positions in a variety of departments.

Extra bases

Injured right-hander Ryan Drese threw three scoreless innings in his first minor league rehab start with Class AA Harrisburg yesterday. Drese, on the 60-day disabled list with a sprained right elbow, still needs at least a few more starts before the Nationals will consider activating him. …

Infielder Damian Jackson was unavailable for the third straight game with esophageal spasms. He said after yesterday’s game that he’s feeling better but couldn’t say whether he would be able to play tonight against the Florida Marlins.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page.

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