- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 17, 2012

There were no signs of outward frustration. No slamming of his helmet or smashing of his bats. There was only one flip answer regarding the health of a shoulder he insists is fine before he expanded on what a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees meant for his first-place team.

Ryan Zimmerman is struggling. He finished Sunday hitting closer to the Mendoza line than his career average. He’s hit just one home run in each month thus far. And in the Nationals’ sweep-clinching 4-1 loss to the Yankees, he was 0 for 4.

“Only thing that really concerns me,” said Washington manager Davey Johnson, “is we’ve got to get Zim going. Need to get Zim in a happy place.”

For much of the Nationals’ existence, Zimmerman has been the bright light guiding them through years of darkness. Now, with the lights shining on his team hotter than ever, Zimmerman, hitting .229 with three home runs, isn’t being the No. 3 hitter the offense needs. He’s not alone.

Just 14 games into his season after a right lat tear, Michael Morse joins Zimmerman on the list of Nationals position players hitting below .230. Combined the two were 0 for 8 on Sunday. Adam LaRoche’s 2-for-4 day with a home run and a double was the only thing breaking up the ineffectiveness for the middle of the order.

“We’re not striking any fear in the opposing pitcher,” Johnson said. “They’re having it too easy with us. Those guys need to get going. They’re certainly talented enough to get going.

“Whatever we’ve got to do to get it going, the whole season’s in front of us. There’s plenty of time. But I’d just like to see us getting the head [of the bat] out. Throwing the bat. Not getting beat. We seem to be getting beat too much.”

If the question with Zimmerman regards his shoulder, he refuses to use it as an excuse. “I feel good,” was all he offered. The inflammation in his right AC joint kept him out of 13 games. For him, it won’t be the reason why he’s struggled to find his usual consistency. Johnson, though, wondered if it might be and planned to speak with the third baseman this week.

“I’m not doing as well as I want to,” Zimmerman said, acknowledging that one sign is how often he’s hitting the ball to the left side of the field, instead of to all fields. In his career, Zimmermann has ground into an average of 18 double plays per year. He already has nine this season.

“I think anytime you’re not getting hits like that something has to change. I’ve just got to keep working hard and keep doing the same things I’ve done my whole career and it’ll turn around. The worst thing you can do is panic and try to change everything.”

Sunday it was Ivan Nova who tormented the Nationals for 7⅔ innings, making another solid start from Edwin Jackson a moot point by holding the Nationals to seven hits — and never more than two in an inning. LaRoche tattooed a 1-0 fastball over the right-field wall in the second inning, but he was the only National to experience the 90 feet from third to home.

Washington, coming off an undefeated six-game road trip, worked in the first 10 weeks to be 38-23 when the Yankees arrived on Friday. Worked to make this weekend series, which drew 124,135, the type that deserved a national stage.

And then they fell short, for three straight games.

“We’ve got some work to do,” LaRoche said. “We got outplayed and we got beat…. I think it’s something to build off of. I don’t think anybody in here thinks that they’re that much better than we are. We respect them. We know they’re a great team. But I don’t think anybody’s obviously pleased with getting swept, regardless of who it is. I’m sure we’ll take something away from it.”

It’s not the first time they’ve been swept. They’ve bounced back. They’ll wake up Monday still 12 games over .500 with a four-game lead in the National League East and 98 games left.

“Only thing this does is help us dig deeper,” Jackson said. “This just gives you that much more intensity when you take the field. It’s not like the season’s over just because we got swept, by any means. It happens. It’s baseball. We have a long ways to go.”

Said Morse: “We’re in first place for a reason. We’ve battled our butts off all year. We’re going to continue to do that.”

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