- The Washington Times - Monday, July 13, 2009

HOUSTON | Ryan Zimmerman was back in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse Sunday morning, the doldrums before a day game an oasis of normalcy in an emotional five-day stretch for the team’s franchise player.

On Friday, Zimmerman flew to North Carolina to be with family after the death of his grandmother Ilene on Wednesday. He flew back to Houston after the funeral Saturday, rejoining the team and starting Sunday.

He then left for St. Louis, where the 24-year-old will take part in his first All-Star Game on Tuesday. Zimmerman’s family will fly the 2 1/2 hours from Virginia Beach; his mother, Cheryl, confined to a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis, will bear the discomfort of the flight to watch her oldest son get the highest honor of his professional career so far.

Zimmerman will have traveled as far emotionally as he has geographically in that span. But the third baseman, as he does with most everything, can take it in stride.

On Sunday, he attributed that to his mother’s disease, which forced Zimmerman and his younger brother, Shawn, into roles most kids don’t have as teenagers. Zimmerman said he has never complained about his mother’s condition - “It’s not like they brought us in a room and said she has two years left to live,” he said - and he realizes the role it had in shaping his demeanor on a baseball field.

Zimmerman is almost an on-field personification of manager Manny Acta, his day-to-day demeanor shaded only slightly by the mountain of losses the Nationals have piled up the past two years. Even before he got to the District, he had already been through worse.

“There’s obviously certain times when everyone gets upset. I just think some people are better at not letting people see what they don’t want them to see,” said Zimmerman, who went 0-for-5 on Sunday. “I mean, I get upset. I get mad. It’s normal. I just don’t let a lot of other people see it. There’s no reason for other people to see it.”

Gonzalez to play more

Acta said Alberto Gonzalez, the utility infielder moonlighting as an offensive dynamo since the Nationals acquired him from the New York Yankees at last year’s trade deadline, will get more playing time in the second half of the season, mostly at second base.

The reasoning is simple: Since coming to the Nationals, Gonzalez has done nothing but hit. He batted .347 in 17 games last year and is hitting .333 in 43 games and 111 at-bats this season. He was poor offensively in two short stretches with New York, so the Nationals need to see whether he can keep it up for a full season.

“[Offense] has never been his strength,” Acta said. “But all he’s done is hit.”

Detwiler optioned

After Sunday’s game, the Nationals optioned struggling starter Ross Detwiler to Class AAA Syracuse. Acta said the team plans to recall Garrett Mock and make him the fourth starter after the All-Star break.

Detwiler, initially called up to make a spot start when Scott Olsen developed tendinitis in his shoulder, wound up making 10 starts. Battling control of his fastball, he had an 11.68 ERA in his past three outings but left a strong impression on Acta.

“If you would have told us in spring training that this kid was going to start 10 big league games this year, we wouldn’t believe it,” Acta said. “We’re very happy. We’re going to send him down now to be in a better, more under-control environment for us.”

Through a team spokesman, Detwiler declined to comment.

With Mock returning, the Nationals’ post-break rotation is John Lannan, Olsen, Jordan Zimmermann, Mock and Craig Stammen.

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