Nationals' Zimmerman stays calm about slump

A 2012 season that began with a massive contract extension and clarity about his future in Washington is suddenly souring for Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

His team remains in first place in the National League East, and no one is panicking yet. But Zimmerman is in the midst of a terrible slump. Through 50 games he is batting .229 with just three home runs and 22 RBI. His OPS is .624, and that ranks 16th of the 17 third baseman who qualify among the league leaders. It is not what the Nats expect from their star No. 3 batter.

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"The only thing that really concerns me is we have to get [Zimmerman] going. We have to get Zim in a happy place," manager Davey Johnson said Sunday after his team was swept by the New York Yankees.

Zimmerman is batting .186 in 14 games in June. He insists he is healthy, although he did miss 13 games in late April and early May with a right shoulder injury. But after showing signs of life following a return from the disabled list, his numbers are plummeting now.

That decline has put pressure on a lineup that is already without outfielder Jayson Werth (broken left wrist) and catcher Wilson Ramos (right ACL tear). Michael Morse (strained lat muscle) only returned to game action this month and is off to a rough start himself in 14 games (.527 OPS). For now, at least, that leaves much of the heavy lifting to first baseman Adam LaRoche and rookie outfielder Bryce Harper.

"I'm not doing as well as I want to. I think anytime you're not getting hits like that, something has to change," Zimmerman said. "Just got to keep working hard and keep doing the same things that I've done my whole career. It'll turn around. The last thing you can do is panic and try and change everything. We've still got three-and-a-half, four months left, and I plan to continue to work and work out of this thing and help us win more games."

But while Zimmerman says only that his shoulder is "good," Johnson admits he isn't so sure and said he likely will talk with his third baseman before the start of a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.

"I think it's a little surprising just because the type of player he is," LaRoche said Sunday when asked about Zimmerman's struggles. "But again, I don't think anybody's worried about him. And that goes back to what he's done throughout his career. Nobody's worried. I know he's frustrated. But he's our three hole hitter, and he'll be that."

The Nats (38-26), who were off Monday, remain in first place in the NL East with a four-game lead entering play Monday. Even after the Yankees' sweep, Washington is 7-5 against the powerful American League East this season. The Rays (37-29) sit in third place in the AL East despite playing without star third baseman Evan Longoria (left hamstring tear).