NEW YORK -- Mark DeRosa was talking to Ryan Zimmerman after last night's game at Citi Field, one in which Zimmerman had homered (yet again) and driven in a run (yet again), and noted how far the 27-year-old third baseman had come since his stunningly poor start to the season.
"You made it back," DeRosa told his teammate.
"Well," Zimmerman responded, "I made it back to where I guess it's respectable now."
OK, so Zimmerman's overall season numbers -- a .287 average, 22 homers, 84 RBI, an .835 OPS -- aren't off-the-charts good. Especially for a guy who has in his career cracked the 30-homer barrier, the 100-RBI plateau and has hit over .300.
But considering the hole he dug himself into through the season's first half, it's bordering on remarkable how good Zimmerman's season-ending stats will look.
On the morning of June 24, Zimmerman was hitting .218 with three homers, 22 RBI and a .590 OPS that ranked among the worst utility infielders in baseball. His right shoulder was barking, he couldn't drive the ball to the gaps and that 100 million contract extension he had signed during spring training sure didn't look too smart on the Nationals' part.
Zimmerman, as steady and level-headed a player as you'll find in the big leagues, admits now he was concerned.
"I'm OK with the slow starts, but not being able to swing the bat and do the things health-wise, I was worried about that," he said. "Because I know my body pretty well. Everyone in this room plays hurt. Everyone in every locker room. Nobody's healthy. And I've played hurt a lot just like everyone else. But it was a different kind of feeling. It made me nervous."
That morning of June 24, with the Nationals preparing for their series finale in Baltimore, Zimmerman received a cortisone shot in the shoulder. Doctors couldn't promise him it would work. And they couldn't tell him how long the effects of the shot would last.
But it did work. And it has lasted. Zimmerman hasn't needed another shot since, and he barely worries about his shoulder right now.
And the numbers he's posted in 72 games since that day in Baltimore are nothing short of dominant: a .339 average, .405 on-base percentage, 19 homers, 62 RBI and a 1.021 OPS.
He currently owns an NL-best 16-game hitting streak. He's also driven in a run in nine consecutive games, an ExposNationals franchise record.
"We're riding him," manager Davey Johnson said. "Zim's swinging the bat good and playing good."
It only constitutes one-half of a season, but had he compiled those numbers over six months, Zimmerman would be the runaway favorite to win National League MVP honors.
He won't, of course, win MVP. He might receive a handful of top-10 votes.
But he doesn't care about that. What preyed on Zimmerman's mind most of all during his early season struggles was the fact the Nationals were enjoying the best year of their brief history, and he (as the senior member of the club) was doing little to contribute to it all.
"That was a trying time, I guess you could say," he said of those June days when he faced an uncertain future. "That was about as tough a six-week stretch as I've ever had in my career. To be able to look up there now and know I've been able to battle back from that -- and more importantly, can actually help the team win now -- I'm pretty proud of it."