On opening day at his team’s new ballpark, Ryan Zimmerman showed the Washington Nationals why they’re building the franchise around him. Though he’s had a hard time living up to that performance, he’s hoping his latest outing has him and the Nationals headed in the right direction.
After recording his first three-hit game and snapping an extended home run drought, Zimmerman hopes his slump is behind him as the Nationals go for their fifth win in six games in the finale of a two-game series against the Atlanta Braves.
Zimmerman delivered a walk-off home run in the ninth inning of the inaugural game at Nationals Park on March 30, sending Washington (10-17) to a 3-2 victory over Atlanta (12-14). That was the highlight of the young season for the 23-year-old, who hit .221 with one home run, nine RBIs and 21 strikeouts in his next 25 games.
“If a lot of people are counting on you, of course you want to perform, and that might drive you to do a little too much. … I have to learn I can’t do it all the time,” Zimmerman said. “That’s part of me growing up and me learning how to hit. I have a long ways to go.”
Zimmerman might have less work than he thinks if he performed more like he did on Tuesday, when he was 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs in the Nationals’ 6-3 victory. The home run was his first in 99 at-bats, and the three hits raised his batting average from .222 to .241.
“To go through what I went through, and to kind of break out like that and help us win—it’s nice to be able to win when you do that,” he said.
Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones has been much more consistent than his Washington counterpart, leading the majors with a .432 average and ranking near the top of the NL with eight homers and 21 RBIs. He was 2-for-5 with a homer on Tuesday, but his club matched a season high with its third straight defeat.
“This is about the seventh or eighth game you’re about to pull your hair out after,” said Jones, who has hit three of his homers against the Nationals. “We are not swinging the bats well, we’re not executing on offense. We’re not hitting behind runners, getting runners in from third with less than two outs. We’re not making the big pitch when we really need to.”
Getting the big pitches might be a little more challenging for the Braves after staff ace John Smoltz was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday. Smoltz, who’s 3-2 with a 2.00 ERA, has an ailing right shoulder, but the Braves were told he can get over the problem without surgery.
Smoltz’s absence could put added pressure on 22-year-old Jair Jurrjens (3-2, 3.45 ERA), who has delivered three straight quality starts and won his last two games. The right-hander held the New York Mets to three runs and two hits in six innings of a 6-3 victory on Friday.
Jurrjens is making his first career appearance against the Nationals, who will hand the ball to Shawn Hill (0-0, 5.40).
Hill is making his third start after opening the season on the disabled list with tightness in his right forearm. The right-hander allowed three runs - two earned - and six hits in five innings as the Nationals beat the Mets 10-5 on Thursday.
He’s 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA in two career starts against the Braves.