Zim's streak is mark of healthy approach
Offseason work, new lineup help rising star reach potential
WASHINGTON -- While hitting in 30 consecutive games may not seem like a big deal when you're 24, Atlanta's Chipper Jones has a somewhat different perspective. Despite all he has accomplished in his 16 years as an All-Star third baseman for the Braves, Jones has never put together a string like Ryan Zimmerman's recent batting success.
In fact, Jones finds it pretty amazing.
"It's unbelievable to me because I never had a streak that long,'' Jones said. "I think the most I've had is 19 or 20. ...
"You can see the light coming on for Ryan in the last year,'' he said. "He has a flair for the dramatic. He is not intimidated or fazed by anything out there on the field. I love his poise and composure."
While Zimmerman's hitting streak came to an end on Wednesday night in San Francisco, he joined Rico Carty and George Sisler as the only players since 1900 to hit in 30 consecutive games this early in a season.
Despite that, Zimmerman will tell you what he accomplished is not a big deal and all he really wants to do is help rack up more wins for the Nationals.
"The streak thing doesn't really mean much to me," Zimmerman said. "I enjoy doing well and helping the team out. I'll trade in personal stuff for wins any day. ... I just hope I can continue with the approach that I have."
The turning points for Zim
Zimmerman has been helping the Nationals with his bat and glove since September 2005. In his first two full seasons, he averaged 100.5 RBIs. But last year, Zimmerman missed a huge chunk of the season with a labrum tear in his left shoulder.
After the season, Zimmerman made some wise decisions.
In addition to regular workouts, Zimmerman went on a strict diet. Soda and junk food were out. Healthy eating was in. And when he reported to camp in February, Zimmerman was down about 10 pounds and in the best shape of his life.
"It's not like I was ever out of shape," Zimmerman said. "As you get older, you learn what you need to do to get ready. ... I knew what I needed to do to get ready before I went down to Florida. I'm a little older now."
Zimmerman spent a lot of time with hitting coach Rick Eckstein in Florida. Eckstein noticed Zimmerman had a lot of body movement when he was at the plate and would often turn his head when he tried to hit a pitch.
Now, Zimmerman's head is still, he is no longer swinging at bad pitches and he has the stats to back up how much he has improved at the plate, hitting .357 with eight home runs and 26 RBIs.
Eckstein declined to take credit for Zimmerman's success, but he admitted that he enjoys watching him perform on the diamond.
"He has really worked hard,'' Eckstein said. "It's something you hope continues. He has an approach at the plate, putting together quality at-bats."
Jones sees a different Zimmerman at the plate.
"I see a little bit of a shorter swing," Jones said. "Back a couple of years ago, his swing was a little long. Better than average fastballs would beat him. He shortened it up a little and started to get to those fastballs. He is making adjustments. He is beating the pitcher to the adjustments right now."
|"You can see the light coming on for Ryan in the last year. He has a flair for the dramatic. He is not intimidated or fazed by anything out there on the field. I love his poise and composure."|
|-- Chipper Jones|
Zimmerman has been so good this year that teammate John Lannan is endorsing him for the National League All-Star team.
"He is unbelievable," Lannon said. "I think he is going to be in the All-Star Game this year. In my eyes, he is the starting third baseman, so far. Knock on wood.
"He is playing great ball right now -- on offense and defense."
Zimmerman's success is more than his personal adjustments, though. He needed a presence to protect him in the lineup, and new slugger Adam Dunn has proven to be the man for the job. Dunn is in the midst of arguably the best start of his career with 11 homers and 28 RBIs.
Manager Manny Acta credited Dunn for his contributions to Zimmerman's success this season.
"Every night, Ryan doesn't have to feel that he's the one that has to have a great night just to win the ballgame, which I felt at times as a manager," Acta said. "When he wasn't going good, I [felt] our chances to win weren't as good. In 2007, Nick Johnson wasn't here, so it was pretty much him and Dmitri Young.
"Last year, when he came back from [the shoulder injury], he didn't have anybody behind him to protect him other than those young kids -- Jesus Flores and Lastings Milledge. This year, he has a totally different scenario because it's a much deeper lineup.
"He knows that if he doesn't do something today, it might be Nick Johnson, it might be Elijah Dukes, so it's a more relaxing year for Zimmerman."
When told what Acta said about how much he has helped Zimmerman, Dunn disagreed.
"That's Manny being Manny," Dunn said. "I think Ryan is coming into his own. The pitchers are going to pitch him how they are going to pitch him. Yeah, in certain situations it does matter."
Mets third baseman David Wright, Zimmerman's childhood friend, offered even further insight into Zimmerman's new approach.
"The guys hitting behind him are helping him out," Wright said. "He is able to relax. It looks like he can go up there and do his job, not try to [win games by himself]. He is impressive with his consistency. He is locked in. It looks like he is getting three or four hits a night."
The streak ends
When Zimmerman's hitting streak came to an end Wednesday against San Francisco, he received a standing ovation from the fans at AT&T Park after his final at-bat. He went 0-for-3, walked twice and scored a run in a 6-3 victory, marking only the second time this season Zimmerman went hitless in a game.
Mets outfielder Ryan Church doesn't think Zimmerman's 2009 accomplishments are going to stop now.
"He has that God-given talent and the work ethic," said Church, who played two-plus seasons with Zimmerman in Washington. "He doesn't take an at-bat off or a pitch off. That's who he is. That's why he is such a good young player. He is going to be a star in this league."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.