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The Zimmerman story: Early version

Some of you requested this in the other thread, so I thought I'd post it here. Also: The radio situation. The Nationals broadcasts will remain on 107.7 FM/1500 AM through the rest of the season. The club's deal was with Bonneville, which owns the station, not with the Post, which just provided content (such as this afternoon at 5:50 p.m., when I'll be yapping about the Nationals).

The Nats need another radio deal for next year and beyond, and they may well re-up with Bonneville to be broadcast on the same frequency, which they like because it's so strong. I'll have a more thorough post and/or story -- including the future of the broadcast teams -- in days to come.

Zimmerman story: As I explained in the last post, on the West Coast we frequently write a story before the game so that there's something to go in the paper, but it gets replaced in the $.35 edition (and online) by the gamer when there's a final to report, etc. Those of you who get the $.35 edition and had this rushed-into-the-paper drivel on their doorstep already this morning, move on. Others: There are at least some interesting numbers for Zimmerman over the second half -- and keep in mind this was written before his homer last night.

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 27 -- During the all-star break in July, as his teammates scattered about the country to grab three days with family or friends, Ryan Zimmerman remained at his house in Arlington, cleansing his mind. The numbers he toted to the break - a .253 batting average, 45 RBI in 88 games - were less than impressive, and he was reminded of that at nearly every turn.

There were, at that point, two schools of thought. One: Zimmerman's team, the Washington Nationals, was asking too much of him too quickly, stunting his potential. The other: Zimmerman, the runner-up for the National League's rookie of the year award in 2006, was over-valued.

Zimmerman's thought, at the time and now, was that none of that made sense.

"If you think you're good enough," he said Monday, "when you struggle, it's not that you get upset, but you think something's wrong because you know you're better."

Zimmerman does not boast about such things, and he didn't deny that he wanted better numbers. But the thoughts behind his words were fairly straightforward: I am better than this, so my numbers will improve.

Now, with a little more than a month remaining in his second full season, Zimmerman's calm, steady march toward respectability is continuing. He entered the first of three games against the Los Angeles Dodgers here having a fine second half in which he has improved, statistically and practically, in every offensive category.

Since the all-star break, Zimmerman is hitting .314, has a .375 on-base percentage (up from .302 before the break), a .552 slugging percentage (up from .435). At the break, he was on pace to drive in 83 runs, a significant drop-off from his rookie year output of 110. Now, with 26 RBI in his last 26 games, his pace is up to 94 - and a 100-RBI season is within reach.

Coaches and teammates believe that some of Zimmerman's success has stemmed from physical and mental adjustments he has made in the second half. Too often, before the all-star break, he looked at the forbidden fruit - a slider on the outside part of the plate, one that looked sweet and juicy - and swung at it. There are times, still, when he can't resist, because the pitch looks so hittable. But he has significantly decreased those times, and he knows how important that is.

"He's real smart about it," hitting coach Lenny Harris said. "He hears it, and you don't have to keep repeating it. I'm just trying to get him to stay inside the ball, and trying to keep him upright so he doesn't have to feel like he has to reach out there. He'll come back and say, 'Man, I hit that ball good, but I should've hit it better.'"

Those are the rare times Zimmerman becomes publicly frustrated, the times when he swings at a pitch he should have avoided, the times when he pops up a pitch he should have driven.

"I never let other people get me frustrated," he said. "If I get frustrated, it'll be me that does it. But I'll never show anybody else - a pitcher or something - and let them know that they're getting to me."

That points to the asset the Nationals believe might be Zimmerman's best, that nebulous quality baseball people like to call "makeup." As Manny Acta, his manager, said Monday, "I only know that the kid's 22 sometimes when I read it, ... because he doesn't act like a 22-year-old."

But when he was scuffling along in the first half, Acta was quick to remind people that that is, exactly, Zimmerman's age. "I think we take him for granted sometimes," catcher Brian Schneider said.

Zimmerman is diplomatic about what he expects from himself. But he is also well aware that several young players - including other members of his draft class, 2005, such as Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki - are excelling this season as rookies. In some cases, they are outplaying Zimmerman, and he keeps tabs on such players, in part because he played against so many of them in his college days at the University of Virginia. He also is quick to point out that several are playing key roles for contenders.

"It kind of shows how the game has evolved," he said. "They wouldn't throw 22-year-olds into the middle of pennant races if they weren't supposed to succeed. Obviously, there's the athletic part - being stronger, being faster - but that doesn't get you everything. You got to be smart."

Smart enough to, say, lay off that slider off the plate. During that difficult first half, Zimmerman was asked frequently about how pitchers were approaching him.

"They weren't pitching me any different," Zimmerman said. "When I'm going good, I'm obviously not swinging at that slider that goes out of the strike zone. And I don't want to swing at the fastballs that are off the plate inside. They expand the zone both ways, and I can't fall into that plan. [ellipsis] It's just about me being more patient."

At the plate. Not in his career.

"It doesn't matter if you're 22 or 32," he said. "I don't really take the age thing into it as a factor. I mean, I've got two full years, almost. You kind of know what you need to do to get things done."

THE END

I'll get lineups to you from Chavez Ravine, though it won't be till after most of you get home from work.


By Barry Svrluga  |  August 28, 2007; 1:00 PM ET
 
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