Notes: Zimmerman unfazed

Notes: Zimmerman unfazed

MIAMI -- After Ryan Zimmerman drove in 110 runs and hit .287 as a rookie last year, plenty of people have predicted he will have All-Star credentials this season. So far it hasn't been the case.

Sixteen games into the season, the Nationals' No. 3 hitter is batting .209 with zero home runs and just three RBIs.

Yet, if anybody on the Nationals is concerned about Zimmerman's start, it is difficult to discern. They could be taking their cue from Zimmerman himself, who appears absolutely unfazed.

"I feel fine," he said before the Nationals opened a three-game series against the Marlins on Friday at Dolphin Stadium. "It'd be different if I was going up there and striking out, but I feel I've been hitting the ball pretty good."

Besides, he added, he got off to a similarly slow start last season before becoming one of the Nationals' most feared hitters.

On April 20, 2006, Zimmerman was hitting .226 with a home run and 11 RBIs. By April's end, he was still only at .242, meaning he caught fire from there.

So Zimmerman has an advantage now in knowing that he was able to work out of a slow start before.

"There has never been any awards or titles won in the first month of the season," Zimmerman said. "Some guys get off to hot starts, but by the end of the season they're nowhere to be seen. So you can't get all worked up or get caught up in the fact that the hits haven't been falling."

"Everybody goes through this type of thing," he added. "I'll work through it."

Manager Manny Acta said he has seen enough of Zimmerman not to be concerned. "I still believe this kid is special," he said.

Acta emphasized that Zimmerman is blessed with a great mental makeup.

"He's got so much confidence in his ability," said Acta. "His makeup is off the charts, really. He takes everything in stride."

Acta said that when Zimmerman got a big two-out hit the other day, he came back to the dugout joking how much he needed to get that hit to get some of the pressure off him.

"I don't think he's concerned about the slow start," Acta said.

Cold weather hurts Patterson: Right-hander John Patterson, coming back from forearm surgery on July 20, 2006, has not been close to the form expected of him as the Nationals' No. 1 starter. Acta has a hunch the early brutal weather is at least part of the problem.

"In Spring Training, he was throwing 50, 65, 70 pitches, and he got up to 92 in one game," the manager said. "But once we left that [warm] weather, he took like a step back. Once we started the season, everything just went backward. It was so terrible and so cold, it seems like it kept him from making progress."

After lasting four innings Thursday night against the Phillies and giving up seven hits and three runs, Patterson is now 0-3 with a 7.00 ERA in 18 innings.

"I don't know if it hurt, but I don't think it helped," Patterson said of the sorry weather conditions. "I was throwing the ball pretty well when I left Spring Training, but I'm going through a pretty rough patch right now."

Patterson said he has remained positive, because he believes strongly that he will return to his 2005 form, when he went 9-7 with a 3.13 ERA, sometime this season.

"I know I'm going to get through it," he said.

So does pitching coach Randy St. Claire, mindful that Patterson missed about one and a half seasons.

"The more he pitches, the better he's going to get," St. Claire said. "It's taken some time to get his good mechanics back and regain his strength."

First inning blues: The Nationals have not scored in the first inning in 17 games now, after stranding Felipe Lopez at second base in Friday night's first inning. Exacerbating the problem, the opposition has scored 20 times during that span.

The Nationals are the first club since the 2001 Angels were blanked for 16 games to go this long without getting a first-inning run. The last National League team to have an extended problem scoring in the first was the Cardinals, at 17 games, in 1979.

The Nationals are batting .077 (4-for-52) in the first with a walk and a hit batsman. Still, leadoff batter Lopez has a .294 average and No. 2 hitter Ronnie Belliard is at .281. Only Zimmerman, hitting third, is struggling.

Acta doesn't plan to alter his lineup to change the club's early luck.

"No, I just play the game right," Acta said. "I don't need advice because of what's happened. Actually, at this point, we're not even thinking about that anymore. Guys aren't thinking about it. Regardless of how many times we score in the first inning or not, we've got confidence and we're in the middle of the pack now."

He referred to their 5-11 record that had them 27 percentage points ahead of the Phillies entering Friday night's games.

Injury updates: Reliever Ray King, put on the disabled list on April 12 with left shoulder tendinitis, will throw a bullpen session Saturday and then pitch in a simulated game in Philadelphia on Tuesday. ... Outfielder Alex Escobar, who underwent surgery for a right shoulder separation, has been cleared to begin a throwing program. ... Reliever Luis Ayala, who had right elbow reconstruction surgery, pitched an inning at Vero Beach on Thursday. Acta said he reached only 85 mph, so he is a ways off.

Up next: Left-hander Matt Chico will try to improve his record to 2-1 when the Nationals face the Marlins in the series' second game Saturday at 7:05 p.m. ET at Dolphin Stadium. Chico has a 5.27 ERA, but is coming off a victory over the Braves, where he allowed a run in five innings. He'll face right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who is 1-0 with 4.32 ERA.

Charlie Nobles is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.