- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2015

A decade of major league experience has taught Ryan Zimmerman about the dynamics of slumps. He knows the helpless feeling that accompanies them, but he also knows how to work out of one. That’s why, as he stood in front of his locker Sunday morning, he showed no signs of concern about his recent performance, both in his words and in the expression on his face.

Zimmerman has one hit in his past 25 appearances, but he has been here before. He knows that slumps like this will pass, and his averages will return.

“At the end of the year, more than likely, it’s going to be right around there,” Zimmerman said. “Some years it’ll be a little bit higher and some years it’ll be a little bit lower, but that’s why you play six months. Some of the times aren’t very fun, like the time right now that I’m going through, but you just keep going and work for those times when you get hot. And those are the fun times.”

Zimmerman did not play in Sunday’s series finale against the Chicago Cubs, which, in conjunction with the team’s day off Monday, will give him two days to rest. It comes at a perfect time for Washington’s veteran first baseman, who has been playing with plantar fasciitis in his left foot since late April. The issue requires frequent treatment, and though Zimmerman would not blame it for his struggles, he admitted that the injury does bother him.

“But just like everyone else in here that has something that bugs them, they play as well,” Zimmerman said. “Everyone always has something they’re dealing with, so that’s not an excuse. If it was hindering me, then I shouldn’t play.”

Zimmerman is 4 for 45 over the past two weeks with one extra-base hit, two walks and 10 strikeouts. He has grounded into 10 double plays this season, which ranks second in the majors, and is hitting a paltry .213 overall. His performance is one of the reasons why manager Matt Williams tweaked his lineup late last week following the return of second baseman Anthony Rendon. Williams moved Zimmerman to the No. 2 spot in the lineup and put Rendon in the cleanup role, behind Bryce Harper.

When asked about Zimmerman’s slump, Williams pointed to the first baseman’s frequent injuries in 2014. Between breaking his right thumb in April and straining a hamstring muscle in July, Zimmerman missed a total of 98 games.

“This game’s not like riding a bike. He’s got to get back into the flow of it,” Williams said Thursday. “I have all the confidence in the world, everybody in that room does, in Zim hitting in that five spot and being a run producer for us. But it’s a process coming back.”

Williams said he has noticed Zimmerman drifting toward the ball at times, thereby throwing off his timing.

“Those are the things you do when you’re not hitting well,” Zimmerman said, when told about his manager’s observation. “So that’s probably right.”

Yet Zimmerman is careful not to alter his mechanics or routine during tough times. He does not spend any more time in the batting cages before games, nor any less. Change, he believes, is the worst possible antidote.

“I’ve gone through this before, plenty of times,” Zimmerman said. “I think when you try and start changing things, then that kind of prolongs it. Ultimately you get back to what you’ve done your whole career and just kind of stick with that and go for it.”

Zimmerman’s slump has become more prominent only as the entire offense has continued to struggle. After winning nine consecutive series, the Nationals were in danger Sunday of dropping their third series in a row. Entering the series finale, they had scored an average of 2.7 runs over their past nine games, including a shutout at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays and a loss in Cincinnati in which they recorded only two hits.

Before that skid, however, the Nationals had won 21 of 27 games, and Zimmerman had driven in 19 runs. Soon, he knows, that run-producing version of himself will return. His batting average will probably improve, too. Everything will return to the mean, just like it always does.

“I’m just going through a bad time,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve just got to keep working and keep grinding and things will change.”

NOTES: Yunel Escobar returned to Washington’s lineup Sunday after missing two games with a right wrist injury. … Stephen Strasburg threw on flat ground Sunday after throwing a brief bullpen session Saturday. It is unclear if, or when, he will begin a minor-league rehabilitation assignment.

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