Nats, Zim encouraged by recent hot stretch

Nats, Zim encouraged by recent hot stretch

JUPITER, Fla. -- Even as Ryan Zimmerman got off to a slow start during Grapefruit League play, Nationals manager Dusty Baker had no concerns. As long as Zimmerman was healthy, Baker said, he would wait to judge Zimmerman until it became later in the spring.

So it was encouraging for Zimmerman to put together a strong afternoon in Sunday's 10-4 victory against the Marlins. He went 3-for-3 with a walk, lined a double into center field and hammered an opposite-field two-run homer in the sixth. After starting Spring Training hitless in his first 17 at-bats, he is now 7-for-10 in his last three games.

"It's definitely better to be getting hot and going up as we go north," Zimmerman said. "But the most important part for me is the body."

And Zimmerman says he feels healthy and his body is in shape. He has been working on getting his timing down recently, focusing on seeing pitches and swinging only at strikes, and that has been his biggest takeaway.

Baker said he will ramp up the innings for Nationals regulars this week and could have them playing near a full game and used to playing every day.

The Nationals are counting on Zimmerman to bounce back from the worst season of his career, when he posted a career worst .642 OPS and -1.1 wins above replacement, as measured by Baseball-Reference. As the longest-tenured member of the team, he is still one of the leaders in the clubhouse and an original face of the franchise. Despite his down 2016 season, the Nationals did not hesitate to say he would be their starting first baseman in 2017, and they have predicted a huge season for Zimmerman.

So days like Sunday are encouraging for the organization. The Nationals will give Zimmerman every opportunity they can to prove he still can be a productive player.

"Yeah, you gotta enjoy it when it's enjoyable," Baker said. "Because for a long time this spring, it wasn't enjoyable not getting any hits. He stayed off some tough pitches, hit a ball to right. That's a great sign, that he's staying behind the ball and timing it.

"Yeah, come on Zim, 'cause we're counting on him."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.