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06/28/07 5:20 PM ET

Q&A with Ryan Zimmerman

Young star excited about club's progress in rebuilding efforts

Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has already accomplished a lot in his short time in the big leagues. In 2006, at the age of 21, Zimmerman led the Nationals in doubles and RBIs, and he finished a close second to Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez in the National League Rookie of the Year Award balloting.

This year, however, opposing pitchers have made adjustments on Zimmerman, who is hitting .245 with 12 home runs and 42 RBIs. Known as an excellent defensive third baseman, Zimmerman has 12 errors in 77 games after making 15 last year.

MLB.com caught up with Zimmerman recently to talk about this season and the future of the Nationals.

MLB.com: You told everyone to be patient regarding the Nationals. How do you feel about the rebuilding plan?

Zimmerman: I think it's going a lot faster than what people thought. People thought we were going to be horrible this year. At times, we almost played as good as anybody in baseball. To do that this year -- when everybody thought we were just kind of putting things in place and it was going to take three or four years -- it shows that we are really not that far away. We have a group of kids down in the Minor Leagues that are doing unbelievable this year -- Chris Marrero, Justin Maxwell, Mike Daniel, Collin Balester. So you have those guys who are going to be here soon. It's going to make us that much better.

Hopefully, next year, like they say, they get some money, go out and get a few guys. It's really not that far away. The important thing is, we have a good group of guys on this team. We all get along. We enjoy coming on the field every day. We have fun. We laugh when we are on the field. We are serious and want to win every game, but I think when you play 162 games a year, you have to have some fun. We definitely know how to do that. It makes it easier to win.

MLB.com: Your numbers are down slightly from last year. What is the reason behind it?

Ryan Zimmerman: The only thing that is down offensively is my batting average. I've hit more home runs. I have a pretty good amount of RBIs.

Defensively, I've had some tough errors, but I feel good on the field. I feel like I've learned how to play third even better than I was [playing it] last year. I feel more comfortable in certain situations. I kind of feel like I'm starting to learn about the hitters better. I know where they are going to hit the ball.

MLB.com: By hitting to the opposite field as often as you do, people probably expected you to have a higher batting average. Are you surprised that your average is down?

Zimmerman: Do I think I can hit better? Yeah. I know I can hit better. I hit a lot balls hard at people this year, but that only works for so long. I've probably done it more than I've ever done in my whole life. On the other hand, I've probably missed some pitches. I'm learning, though. I've been hitting third a year and a half now. I'm pretty young. I'm a young player that is still learning how to play the game. I've grown up a lot this year, and I think it's going to do nothing but help me.

"We have a good group of guys on this team. We all get along. We enjoy coming on the field every day. We have fun. We laugh when we are on the field. We are serious and want to win every game, but I think when you play 162 games a year, you have to have some fun."
-- Ryan Zimmerman

MLB.com: You had a great year last year. Because fans have high expectations of you, do you think people forget that you are only 22 years old?

Zimmerman: Yeah, I think people forget. Do I use it as an excuse? No, because I feel I can be a great player. I feel like I can be an All-Star. But it's not easy. You'll see guys who have been five- or six-time All-Stars and then hit .260 one year. Then, all of a sudden, they are hitting .300. It's just that, sometimes pitchers pitch you tough. It seems like they make good pitches to you all the time. That's part of the game.

But I don't think my age should be an excuse. I don't want people to feel sorry for me because I'm a 22-year-old and hitting third in the big leagues. There's nothing to feel sorry for. I'm happy to be where I'm at. It's a great opportunity for me -- to be able to learn.

MLB.com: You volunteered to be one of the leaders of the team this year. Do you feel that you are a leader?

Zimmerman: Yeah, I think so. I feel like I've grown up a lot. Because of what I've done and the person that I am, the people here respect me now. One of the biggest things in this game is gaining respect from the people. ... You want your teammates to respect you more than anything. This year, that is starting to happen.

MLB.com: Despite losing Alfonso Soriano to free agency, there were people who thought the offense would still be productive, but it hasn't been. Why?

Zimmerman: It's tough when you have people in and out of the lineup. Now that Guzzie [Cristian Guzman] is gone, that is going to be tough for us. He was having such a good year. Felipe [Lopez] has been up and down. I've been up and down. Really, the only steady person has been Dmitri [Young]. We've all been hot and cold.

If you look at a good team like Detroit, they have a guy [Curtis Granderson] at the top that gets on. He can run and puts pressure on the opposition. They have a guy [Placido Polanco] in the two-hole that can handle the bat real well. He can do whatever he wants. He can hit, run and bunt. Then three through six, they can hit it out of the park.

The most important part, I think, is the first two guys at the top, because they set the table. Felipe has the ability to be one of the best in the game. Guzzie was having a great year. The three through six guys are only as good as the people in front of them. I think Felipe can be one of the best players in the game. Hopefully, he can play well.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.