Ryan Zimmerman has known no other organization. Since Zimmerman became Washington’s first-ever draft pick in 2005, he and the Nationals have been synonymous.
So 16 years after Washington chose Zimmerman to become the franchise’s centerpiece, the 36-year-old is returning to the Nationals on a one-year deal, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, pending a physical. USA TODAY first reported the deal.
He’s the ideal fit to accompany Josh Bell at first base — Bell, a switch-hitter, excels predominantly against right-handed pitching. Zimmerman has a .311 career average against southpaws.
Zimmerman has been central to some of Washington’s biggest moments, such as a walk-off home run to christen the newly opened Nationals Park in 2008 against the Atlanta Braves. He became fondly known as “Mr. Walk-Off” for his game-winning hits. He has 11 walk-off homers, with his first coming in 2006 against the New York Yankees.
That’s the year Zimmerman broke out in the bigs, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting after plating 110 RBIs to go along with his 20 homers and .287 batting average in 157 games. He only earned two all-star nods — 2009 and 2017 — but Zimmerman was a key piece in the Nationals’ run to a 2019 World Series, even though he only appeared in 52 regular-season games that year.
The first baseman wasn’t an everyday player at that point. Still, in Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series, Zimmerman earned a start. The Nationals trailed the Dodgers 2-1 in the series. Zimmerman launched a three-run homer to straightaway center field, keeping the series alive.
Washington went on to beat the Dodgers in the decisive Game 5, setting the stage for a championship run. Zimmerman hit .255 during the postseason, with two homers and seven RBIs.
Zimmerman opted out of the coronavirus-altered 2020 campaign, and there were questions about whether he would retire. Despite his role in the postseason, two stints on the injured list in 2019 limited his role. He finished with a .257 batting average and just six homers that year.
But a return was always possible, especially after the Nationals signed Bell.
“I haven’t talked to Zim in a couple — it’s been weeks,” general manager Mike Rizzo said in December. “I’ve communicated with him via text messages. You know, ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ type messages. We always seem to keep in contact pretty good.”
While Zimmerman opted out of the 2020 season, he noted that didn’t necessarily mark the end of his career.
“To be clear, I am not retiring at this time,” Zimmerman’s statement read. “I have not decided on my future in baseball past 2020. But this year, I’ll be staying safe at home and pulling as hard as anyone for the guys to defend our championship.”
Zimmerman was right. He’s back for at least one more go-around with the Nationals, the only club he’s ever known.