WASHINGTON (AP) -- As Ryan Zimmerman's slump stretched on, the questions mounted.
Should he take a day off? Should he be dropped from No. 3 in the lineup? Why was he 2-for-31 with runners in scoring position? Had he really gone nearly 100 at-bats without a homer?He provided some answers Tuesday night. Zimmerman delivered a season-high three hits, including a homer and tiebreaking two-run double, to lead the Washington Nationals past the Atlanta Braves 6-3."If a lot of people are counting on you, of course you want to perform, and that might drive you to do a little too much. ... I have to learn I can't do it all the time," said Zimmerman, who lifted his batting average from .222 to .241. "That's part of me growing up and me learning how to hit. I have a long ways to go."Zimmerman and Nick Johnson hit consecutive solo shots in the third inning off Tom Glavine, who was coming off his first trip to the disabled list in a 22-season career."I wasn't sure what to expect when I got out there. I've never had a layoff that long," said Glavine, who gave up two runs in six innings and didn't factor in the decision. "I'm wondering if I am ever going to win a game."Zimmerman hadn't homered since April 2 -- career-long droughts of 98 at-bats and 23 games."To go through what I went through," the 23-year-old third baseman said, "and to kind of break out like that and help us win -- it's nice to be able to win when you do that."Suddenly, Washington is winning, following a 2-15 slide by going 5-2.Atlanta has lost three in a row and five of seven."This is about the seventh or eighth game you're about to pull your hair out after," said Chipper Jones, who hit his eighth homer. "We are not swinging the bats well, we're not executing on offense. We're not hitting behind runners, getting runners in from third with less than two outs. We're not making the big pitch when we really need to."The Nationals, meanwhile, know they will often go as Zimmerman goes."He's not going to struggle all year," teammate Lastings Milledge said.In Washington's four-run seventh, Zimmerman hit his double off reliever Blaine Boyer (0-3) with the bases loaded."A bad pitch," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.Here was the important part, as far as Zimmerman and the Nationals were concerned: It was a clutch hit with men on the basepaths."The home run," manager Manny Acta pointed out, "was with nobody on."The bases loaded probably could have gotten to him mentally. Like, 'Oh, here we go again. Here I've got the bases loaded again. Or a man on third, less than two outs. That's where I've been failing,'" Acta continued. "And he just put that behind him."It might have helped that Zimmerman spent some time before the game with Barry Larkin, the former All-Star with the Reds who is now an assistant to Nationals general manager Jim Bowden.Larkin didn't so much provide specific hitting tips as advice about not pressing too hard."Obviously," Larkin noted, "the team's struggling a little bit."Only one major league club (San Diego) entered Tuesday with a lower batting average than Washington's .229, and the middle of the lineup has been having particular problems: Zimmerman, Johnson and Austin Kearns were all hitting below .230. That trio combined to go 6-for-12 against Atlanta."People don't know how smart [Larkin] is. He's more of a kind of mental guy that I talk to. He's helped me out a lot," Zimmerman said. "It just so happens that he gets here today and I get three hits."Then, breaking into a smile, Zimmerman added: "So, I mean, I won't give him all the credit."Saul Rivera (2-1) got the win by pitching a scoreless seventh. Luis Ayala threw a perfect eighth, although center fielder Milledge had to make a twisting catch while backpedaling on Brian McCann's fly ball.In the ninth, though, the real trouble for Washington: Chad Cordero -- hoping to earn back his job as the closer -- threw only 13 pitches before motioning to the dugout. A team trainer came out and looked at Cordero, who raised his pitching arm and pointed to below his shoulder. Cordero left the game with what was initially diagnosed as a lat muscle problem and was replaced by Jon Rauch.Rauch got the last two outs for his fifth save.
The Braves are 0-4 in Glavine's starts. ... Right-hander John Smoltz went on the 15-day DL with an ailing right shoulder, though the Braves were told he can get over the problem without surgery.