MINNEAPOLIS -- Ryan Zimmerman has been left to watch much of Washington's chase for a playoff spot this year since lingering foot issues have limited him to 40 games.
Zimmerman and the Nationals hope he’s around for the stretch run, because he continues to show how valuable he can be to the National League Wild Card leaders.
Zimmerman had three hits, including a two-run homer, and three RBIs to help the Nats beat the Twins, 6-2, on Wednesday night at Target Field.
“I still have confidence in myself," Zimmerman said. “I still know that if I can stay on the field, I can produce and be helpful in many ways. This year has been really frustrating. We’ve talked about it. The rest of my body has felt great. Obviously the foot hasn’t cooperated.
“No reason in whining or complaining about it now, just kind of battle through it and get back to where I’m at now -- and hopefully help in these meaningful games in September, and hopefully beyond.”
Zimmerman had an RBI single in the first inning and then launched his sixth homer of the season in the third to put the Nationals ahead, 5-0, early. Howie Kendrick added three hits, and Trea Turner homered for the 14th time this season as Washington came back to split the first two games of the series.
Stephen Strasburg (17-6) pitched six strong innings, giving up just four hits and two runs -- both coming on a two-run homer by Jorge Polanco -- with seven strikeouts. Then the beleaguered Nationals bullpen closed with three scoreless innings as Wander Suero, Sean Doolittle, Fernando Rodney and Daniel Hudson closed out the victory.
After losing six of its previous eight games, Washington opened up a 3 1/2-game lead for the top NL Wild Card spot -- ahead of the Brewers, who won their sixth straight, and Cubs, who lost in San Diego late Wednesday night.
“Huge,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said of the impact Zimmerman could have the rest of the season. “I’ve talked to him about, ‘Hey, when we get you back.' He missed a lot. So, ‘We just kind of get you to play two days and then we give a day off. Play you another two or three, but you have to let me know how you feel.’”
The 15-year veteran has spent two stints on the injured list this season due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
Since returning on Sept. 1, Zimmerman has hit .292 with three home runs -- in six starts -- and 10 RBIs.
“When he hits the ball hard the other way and up the middle, he’s really good,” Martinez said. “He did that today. Hit the home run, but the key for him was to really utilize the other side of the field.”
Washington had struggled in series losses to division counterparts New York and Atlanta, but the Nationals came out strong against Twins left-hander Martin Perez (10-7) on Wednesday.
Adam Eaton doubled in the first, and Anthony Rendon followed with a walk. Juan Soto singled in one run, and Zimmerman singled in another in the inning.
Kendrick doubled to score Soto in the third before Zimmerman homered to center field.
“I’m still kind of getting back into it, but I feel pretty comfortable,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman and Martinez are being mindful of how many games the first baseman is playing, even though matchups likely have led to Zimmerman being in the lineup more than expected initially upon being activated from the injured list.
“Nobody ever wants to say they don’t want to play,” Zimmerman said. “I’m not going to be able to play every single day, this September or the years to come. I think that’s going to be a big part of staying on the field where, when I do have these runs where I go a week, two weeks, three weeks where I’m playing really well, it’s tempting to want to go out there and play every day, and I’ve got to be smarter than that.
“So, we’ll see what the matchups look like over the next week or so and go from there. I get in there, I just try and do one thing every night to try and help us win.”