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Davey Johnson discusses Ryan Zimmerman's struggles at the plate

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TORONTO — The Washington Nationals have plenty good going on right now. They’re 14 games over .500 heading into this afternoon’s series and road trip finale with the Blue Jays, and have a chance to get on a plane 15 games over after a 6-0 trip.

But with each win comes statements like this one from Davey Johnson: “The whole lineup is not where it needs to be this time of year. We’ve still got some guys struggling.”

Top on the list, and most concerning for the Nationals right now, is Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse.

While Morse’s issues (eight hits in 40 at-bats since his return) can be brushed off a little easier as he’s still returning from a prolonged absence, missed two full months of the season and is coming off a severe injury, Zimmerman’s are to the point where Johnson is a bit troubled.

“When he’s not centering on the ball and driving the ball, I’m concerned,” Johnson said Tuesday night.

Zimmerman, hitting .239 with three homers and 10 doubles this season, has had stretches where he looks like himself. From May 17-28, Zimmerman hit .318 with a .477 slugging percentage, and from June 5-11, he hit .300 and slugged .433.

But he’s also gone through stretches where he’s faltered. In his career, Zimmerman has ground into, on average, 18 double plays per season. He’s already hit into nine this year with just more than a third of the season gone. 

“I just don’t see him tracking real well,” Johnson said Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t know why. If it’s his approach or what he’s thinking. I know he’s streaky at times but I sure need him to be comfortable because he’s invaluable to this ballclub. He can really help out a whole lot.”

Zimmerman’s demeanor rarely changes, never too high or too low as he likes to say, and he has maintained that same outward confidence throughout this season. The inflammation in his right AC joint hasn’t helped, and while it’s certainly manageable, where it could affect him is in his pre- and post-game work.

Obviously a different part of the body, but when Zimmerman returned from his abdominal tear in 2011, it wasn’t until about six weeks later that he was his full self in the weight room and elsewhere to get himself into shape to be the player he is on the field.

It’s common for players to return from injury when they’re “good enough to play,” so to speak, but not at their prime operating health. To this point, though, Zimmerman has declined to use the shoulder as an excuse.

“He’s hard for me to read a little bit because he’s so talented, but he’s really not attacking the ball,” Johnson said. “He went through spells where he hit it hard and hit it at people and balls that would have gone nine miles if the wind hadn’t held it up, but I haven’t seen him hitting the ball like that in a while. I don’t know if his shoulder’s bothering him or what but we certainly need him.

“He seems to be in a good mind. His BP has looked pretty good. But he looks a little defensive in the game.”

All that being said, it would be surprising to see Johnson do anything to try and jumpstart him with regard to the lineup. Zimmerman is the Nationals’ No. 3 hitter for the foreseeable future.

“He’s too good a hitter to keep struggling,” Johnson said. “Same way with Morse. We’re just in the early stages of the season so there’s plenty of time to pick up the slack and start carrying a heavy load.”

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