Ryan Zimmerman has been on the Washington Nationals’ roster ever since their inaugural season in 2005, and was also the Nationals’ first ever draft pick after they moved to Washington from Montreal. In his time with Washington, he garnered the nickname “Mr. National”, with good reason. It was due in large part to Zimmerman’s consistency and leadership skills at third and first base that the Nats went from the doldrums of the National League East to eventual World Series champs.
Destined for the show
Even before college Zimmerman was playing alongside future MLB peers such as B.J. Upton, Mark Reynolds and Mets’ iconic third baseman David Wright. In college, Zimmerman played ball for the University of Virginia Cavaliers.
He certainly made his mark at Virginia, starting in all 174 games that he appeared in while finishing top ten in Cavaliers history in doubles (5th), hits (6th) and RBI (7th). Zimmerman also broke the university’s record for hits in a single season with 90 in 2004 and then broke his own record the next season with 92.
A long and successful career
Zimmerman instantly became an important piece of the Nationals’ team as he hit .397 in his first 20 games with the Nats in 2005. From then on Zimmerman showed his consistency year in and year out, never hitting below .265 from 2005 to 2014.
Zimmerman stayed consistent and reliable through some truly frustrating and unsuccessful seasons. In his first 6 full seasons with Washington, they never finished with a winning record, and while the Nats finished an abysmal 59-103 in 2009, Zimmerman had his first of two All-Star seasons, ending the year hitting .292 with 33 homers, 106 RBI on top of winning both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award, cementing himself as one of the elite third basemen in the National League.
The Nationals’ fortunes as a whole turned in 2012 with the presence of then rookie Bryce Harper whose addition seemed to instantly turn the Nats into a winner. They made their first playoff appearance that season, but choked in the 9th inning of Game Five of the NLDS and fell to the Cardinals. Losing in the postseason became a habit for the Nationals from that point on, as they consistently had good teams but could never seem to make it past the division series.
Zimmerman stuck with Washington through all the heartbreak and defeat and ended up having the best season of his career in 2017 when he hit .303 with 36 homers and 108 RBI and earned his 2nd all-star nod.
When Harper signed a massive contract with the Phillies prior to the start of the 2019 season, Zimmerman stayed with Washington and while he only appeared in 52 regular seasons games that year, it was his role in the Nats’ postseason run that fans will remember.
Zimmerman appeared in all 16 of the Nats’ postseason games in 2019 and hit .255. When all was said and done at the end of the postseason, the Nats were World Series champions and a large part of that was due to Zimmerman’s leadership.
To Nats fans, he will always be thought of fondly and was the team’s first franchise player, helping to pave the way for their first ever World Series championship. The Nationals will almost certainly retire his #11 at some point in the future and his commitment to DC has been unmatched in the 21st century.
What’s next for the Nats
Since their World Series victory in 2019, the Nats are coming off back-to-back subpar seasons. With Zimmerman gone, that leadership role will have to be filled by someone, although his presence can never truly be replicated.
With most of Washington’s former stars gone, the obvious choice for that role becomes all-star outfielder Juan Soto. Soto is coming off an excellent season in which he finished 2nd behind former National Bryce Harper in MVP voting. He’s proven his value on the field and now he’ll have to step up as a clubhouse leader if the Nats want to return to playoff form.
The only other sensible choice now for Nats’ clubhouse leader is all-star pitcher and 2019 World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg is undeniably a great pitcher, but he’s been plagued by injuries throughout his career.
He’s made just seven starts over the past two seasons, albeit a shortened one in 2020. If he wants to take over Zimmerman’s role as team leader, he’ll have to stay in the rotation consistently.
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