Zimmerman hopes smaller weights key big, healthy season

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) Ryan Zimmerman slumped at the best possible time, and with that out of the way, he's ready to begin the regular season.

After an 0-for-17 start to the spring, the Washington Nationals first baseman is about to head north with respectable Grapefruit League numbers. Zimmerman's two singles, one of the infield variety, in Tuesday night's game against Miami raised his average back above .300 for the spring.

''He's more aggressive,'' Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. ''He's swinging at balls in the strike zone He's running good. He's healthy.''

Health may be the most important part of the preseason for Zimmerman. Over the past three years, injuries to his shoulder, foot and wrist have limited Zimmerman's playing time and robbed the former All-Star of offensive production. Last season, he played more than 100 games for the first time since 2013 but still couldn't avoid two trips to the disabled list.

In an attempt to stay off the DL this season, Zimmerman altered his offseason weightlifting program.

In his case, bigger wasn't better.

''Just like anything, as you get older, you have to kind of change things up, change the way you lift,'' Zimmerman said. ''You don't do fun lifts anymore where you are throwing around a lot of weight. It's more small muscles - not rehab stuff, but preventative stuff. I like to call it boring workouts.''

While being boring can be beneficial, Zimmerman still struggled with the change.

''This offseason was the first offseason where I really kind of completely went to that,'' Zimmerman said. ''It takes a while to give up something - especially doing something that worked great for seven, eight years. Obviously the last two-and-a-half, three years have been rough, so you have to make changes. You have to adapt.''

Zimmerman insists the slow spring start never bothered him. With spring rosters bloated with players destined for the minor leagues, Baker tried to spread out the early at-bats at first base between Zimmerman, Adam Lind and Clint Robinson, who the Nationals placed on waivers Monday.

As the slump reached the middle of spring, Baker tried to get Zimmerman more at-bats to help him find his groove.

Zimmerman followed that 0-for-17 start to spring with 10 hits in his next 16 at-bats, giving credence to the idea that he can be a middle-of-the-order bat for a team many pick to win the NL East.

''We're counting big on Zim,'' Baker said.

Zimmerman even provided one of the Grapefruit League's most entertaining plays. On Saturday against Houston, he raced home from third on a grounder to second. The throw home beat Zimmerman, who slid around the tag but couldn't reach the plate. He jumped up, danced around Brian McCann's tag attempt, then dove safely to touch home plate.

''It's one of those plays that's just a silly baseball play,'' Zimmerman said. ''It was fun.''

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