- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

Ryan Zimmerman is the first to admit he has been anything but red-hot at the plate during the longest hitting streak in Washington Nationals history.

Indeed, Zimmerman’s average during the streak - which reached 19 games when he homered in his first at-bat Thursday night against the St. Louis Cardinals - was .312 entering the contest. A nice average but hardly the kind of video-game numbers typically associated with lengthy hitting streaks.

Zimmerman, though, prefers it this way. Given a choice between a 10-for-15 stretch followed by an 0-for-15 slump or a prolonged 10-for-30 run, he will take the latter anytime.

“This is the ultimate goal, to stay consistent like this,” he said.

The first three seasons of Zimmerman’s career also featured all sorts of ups and downs. He would go on a tear one week, then go ice cold the next. The end result looked good, but the path to get there didn’t meet the third baseman’s standards.

So he entered this season determined to become a more consistent offensive player. With the help of new hitting coach Rick Eckstein, he created a routine and mental approach that doesn’t change from game to game or at-bat to at-bat. The positive results have been obvious.

“Every day he’s having two or three good at-bats and making consistent contact,” manager Manny Acta said.

Never one to get off to fast starts - his career April average entering this season was .237 - Zimmerman is encouraged by the way he has hit so far in 2009 and believes this approach could help him achieve his goal of finishing the year over .300.

“It’s not fun to get off to a slow start,” he said. “I was never worried or felt pressure. But does it feel a lot better to have a good April? Yeah. It’s nice not to have to try to dig yourself out of a big hole.”

Beimel ready to return

Joe Beimel’s injured left hip is healed, and the left-hander declared himself ready to return to the Nationals’ bullpen.

The only problem: He’s not eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list until Wednesday, which has the veteran reliever “going crazy.”

“I’m just itching to get back out there,” he said. “It’s been a long… I mean, I don’t even know how long it’s been.”

Actually, it’s been 10 days since Beimel injured himself diving to catch a bunt near the mound. It only has felt like an eternity for a pitcher who had never spent time on the DL before this.

The day after Beimel got hurt, both he and the Nationals believed he would need at least two weeks to recover. But he made great strides in the first three days and spent the last week working out at extended spring training in Viera, Fla.

After throwing 25 pitches in a simulated game Wednesday, Beimel returned to the D.C. area. He will make rehab appearances Friday and Sunday for Class A Potomac, then come off the DL on Wednesday.

Upon returning, Beimel will join right-handers Julian Tavarez and Kip Wells in forming the Nationals’ new closer by committee.

“It’s something I’ve never really done on a consistent basis, but I’m definitely excited for the challenge,” he said. “It’s something I think I’ll be able to do.”

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