Feb 8, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
As the countdown to spring training reaches its final days, we’re counting down the Nationals’ five biggest storylines of camp. We begin today with storyline No. 5: Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing…
Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing woes — a national storyline early in 2013 — quietly dissipated late last season. After a brutal stretch that saw him charged with seven errors in 13 games, the Nationals third baseman steadily improved. He was charged with only four errors over his last 50 games, none of them committed during his final 21 games.
Does that mean Zimmerman got over the hump once and for all, that this is no longer a concern for the Nats?
They certainly hope so, but until they see him back on the field this spring and making routine throws with precision and power, there will be at least some doubt in everyone’s mind.
Zimmerman’s throws, to be sure, were vastly improved by season’s end. It wasn’t simply the lack of errors, it was the conviction with which he began throwing the ball across the diamond. Davey Johnson attributed it to a fully healthy shoulder nearly a year following arthroscopic surgery. But Zimmerman also appeared to get past whatever mental hurdle plagued him early in the season, one that many thought could derail his career.
After a full offseason to heal even more, Zimmerman should arrive in Viera as healthy and as confident as he’s been in quite some time. But he’ll also arrive with a new piece of equipment that will draw plenty of attention: a first baseman’s mitt.
The Nationals plan to have Zimmerman take some grounders at first base this spring. If all goes well, he could make a Grapefruit League appearance or two on the other side of the diamond. And if all that goes well, he could make an occasional start at first base this season, giving Adam LaRoche a day off against a tough left-hander.
The obvious question: Is this the start of a full-fledged position switch, one that has been surmised for several years?
For now, the Nationals view Zimmerman as their everyday third baseman. Not only in 2014 but beyond. If the shoulder is healthy, he should be able to position himself deeper and thus get to more balls while possessing enough arm strength to make strong throws across the diamond. Combine those “power” defensive plays with the “finesse” plays Zimmerman has always (and continues) to make as well as anyone in the league, and there’s plenty of reason to believe he can continue at the hot corner for years to come.
But the Nationals do have to consider the future. LaRoche is entering the final year of his contract, with the Nationals unlikely to pick up his 2015 option unless the veteran makes a major reversal and puts up a career year. That opens up first base for someone else, whether a young prospect like Tyler Moore or Matt Skole, or for a veteran in need of a position switch like Zimmerman.
There’s plenty of time for all of that to play out. For now, all eyes will be on Zimmerman when he takes his familiar position this spring, hoping to put to rest any lingering questions about the strength of both his arm and his mind.
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