After 3 losses to the Yankees, the Nationals wonder if Zimmerman is OK

WASHINGTON -- Davey Johnson said he wants to check and make sure Ryan Zimmerman isn't hurt.

Maybe he'll get a different answer than I did.

I got a smile and an "I'm fine" on Friday night, one game into what became a promising but ultimately disappointing series for the Nationals and their Face of the Franchise third baseman.

"I would never put myself on the field if I didn't feel I was capable of helping the team," Zimmerman said Friday.

He knows how important he is to this team. He knows what an incredible opportunity the Nationals have this season. Even after getting swept by the Yankees, the Nats still own a four-game lead in the National League East.

They've done it without much offensive help from Zimmerman, whose 1-for-13 weekend dropped his batting average to .229. In 50 games since coming back from a right shoulder injury, Zimmerman has just three home runs and 22 RBI, with a .623 OPS. His lowest OPS in seven prior big-league seasons was .774.

Is he still hurting? I know that some people close to him believe that he is. I know that Zimmerman's answers suggested he is. I also know that he hasn't suggested to the team that he's hurt, and that he believes that whatever pain he feels isn't a legitimate excuse for his drop in performance.

"I think people who make excuses -- if you're too hurt to play, don't play," Zimmerman said.

And if he's healthier enough to play at his normal high level offensively -- Zimmerman did make several fine defensive plays (and one error) over the weekend -- then the Nationals need Zimmerman to start producing at that level.

"The one thing that really concerns me is that we've got to get Zim going," Johnson said as he opened his postgame press conference after Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Yankees. "We've got to get him in a happy place."

Johnson and his players weren't crushed by the three losses to the Yankees, and rightfully so. The young Nationals ran into a talented veteran team playing at a very high level.

But for the Nationals to win, you'd think that they'll need to be better offensively. With Jayson Werth a ways away from returning, that almost certainly means more production from Zimmerman and Michael Morse.

Morse, who missed the first two months of the season, is admittedly still going through what amounts to spring training during the season. Sunday was just his 14th game back.

Zimmerman has been back much longer, more than a month now. And over the last 21 games, he's batting .196.

Is that because he's not healthy enough to help?

"I'm not totally sure," Johnson said. "That's why I have to talk to him."

Maybe he'll get a different answer, but I doubt it.

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