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Zimmerman's hot streak a bonus for Baker

Special to MLB.com

DENVER -- The way the Nationals are going, manager Dusty Baker could probably draw a lineup out of a hat and still be leading the league in OPS. After a 15-12 victory over the Rockies on Tuesday, the Nationals are second in the National League in average (.272) and boasting a Major League-best .804 OPS.

The offense is clicking on nearly all cylinders, with six starters hitting over .250. The middle of the order -- Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Daniel Murphy -- came out of the second game of the Rockies series hitting a collective .363 (81-for-223) with 17 homers and 58 RBIs.

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DENVER -- The way the Nationals are going, manager Dusty Baker could probably draw a lineup out of a hat and still be leading the league in OPS. After a 15-12 victory over the Rockies on Tuesday, the Nationals are second in the National League in average (.272) and boasting a Major League-best .804 OPS.

The offense is clicking on nearly all cylinders, with six starters hitting over .250. The middle of the order -- Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Daniel Murphy -- came out of the second game of the Rockies series hitting a collective .363 (81-for-223) with 17 homers and 58 RBIs.

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The success of those three allowed Baker to adjust his lineup toward the ideal he envisioned a year ago, before Zimmerman's subpar season forced him out of the cleanup role. But in the midst of a road trip that has Zimmerman on a week-long tear, Baker has the thriving first baseman back in the heart of the order, where he is 6-for-15 (.400) with two homers and five RBIs in four games.

"I started the season last year with Zimm there," Baker said of Zimmerman in the four-hole. "It wasn't working, but I stuck with Zimm a long time. There were people that probably wanted me to put him on the bench. I remember."

More than anything, hitting the right-handed Zimmerman fourth allows Baker to split up lefties Harper and Murphy, who hit third and fourth most of the season, until Thursday's game in Atlanta.

"I wasn't swinging the bat really well, and Zimm was killing it," Murphy said. "So it was a two-fer. Zimm was going to get more at-bats, and we were going to split the lefties up."

Baker was happy to hear his players thinking of the team first.

"It's an easier decision if they are thinking of it in the first place," Baker said. "That was big of Murph. That was big for the team."

Zimmerman's rejuvenation has given the Nats a shot in the arm, pacing them to the top of the National League East. They won 95 games in a season that Zimmerman hit a career-low .218 while taking two trips to the disabled list last season, but with their first baseman in top form, they're playing at a pace to win 110 games.

"The whole thing now is just keep Zimm healthy," Baker said. "That's the key."

Baker started the four-game series with Harper and Matt Wieters on the bench, and said he'll probably rest Zimmerman one day in Colorado.

"You got to think about the big picture, and think about the long run versus the short runs," Baker said. "It's a very long race."

As much as veterans understand the need to pace themselves, Baker knows it's hard for a hot hitter to sit at Coors Field.

"These guys are team guys," Baker said. "If you're going good, it doesn't matter if you're playing in Yellowstone. If you're bad, it doesn't matter if you're playing in a Little League park."

 The Strasburg sisters

Baker reported Tuesday that Stephen Strasburg and his wife Rachel welcomed their second daughter to the family. Strasburg has been on the three-day paternity list since Monday, and will return to the roster Thursday, though he's not expected to join the team until they return to Washington on Friday.

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com based in Denver, and covered the Nationals on Tuesday.

Washington Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman