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Spring storyline No. 5: Zimmerman’s throwing

Feb 8, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

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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.

  1. letswin3 - Feb 8, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    Maybe the proof that Zim is back to 100% will be to watch his positioning. There is no question that he “cheated in” last season in favoring his shoulder. That meant that he had less reaction time to get to balls hit sharply to his left and right. If he’s back to a “normal” fielding position, and the throws are on line, he will likely be all the way back. I also wonder how much the “messing with his throwing motion” affected his error numbers. My understanding was that the club felt that he should have a more traditional overhanded throwing motion, instead of his more natural side-armed motion. I guess their rationale was that the shoulder could recover better or faster with the change. I’m not sure what the change provided, but I know it looked mechanical and strained.

  2. Sonny G 10 - Feb 8, 2014 at 1:02 PM

    If Ryan can avoid getting injured, I believe we will have an all-star caliber third baseman this year. I will be surprised if Ryan doesn’t pick up right where he left off at the end of last year

  3. zmunchkin - Feb 8, 2014 at 1:09 PM

    Another factor in whether RZ moves is whether Danny finds his swing. If he can hit .250 or better, with pop, then maybe Rendon goes to 3rd, Danny is FT at 2B and RZ at 1st. Don’t think it is likely, but it is possible that Danny becomes a good offensive player.

    • senators5 - Feb 8, 2014 at 1:41 PM

      Relying on DE is like playing Russian Roulette with 4 bullets in the chamber.

      • scnatsfan - Feb 8, 2014 at 1:59 PM

        I cannot see a scenario, outside of injury, that Danny plays a significant role on this team other then being a capeable backup

      • ehay2k - Feb 8, 2014 at 2:05 PM

        So you’re saying there’s a chance!!!

    • Eugene in Oregon - Feb 8, 2014 at 3:18 PM

      And even then he doesn’t do it well.

  4. micksback1 - Feb 8, 2014 at 2:35 PM

    would love to see espi finally hit from the left side of the plate, I have serious doubts, I think he is a head case and from what my key team source shared with me, he became a cancer on the team in 2013

  5. David Proctor - Feb 8, 2014 at 2:37 PM

    Arb cases are going on right now. Cashner won his, Vinnie Pestano lost his. I wonder when Clip’s is scheduled for.

  6. realdealnats - Feb 8, 2014 at 2:38 PM

    Going back a few posts:

    I’ve always pulled for Det, and I loved Roark last year–his coolness and his location.

    And I love the homegrown quality of the Nats.

    Having said that:

    Stras, Gio, JZimm, Fister, Burnett

    Soriano, Det, Storen, Clip, Roark, Blevins, Stammen…

    Its all on paper being February, but I don’t just hmmmmm, I say Wow.

    And it creates a lot of depth in the minors that can be getting work in: Jordan, Solis, Ohlendorf, Cedeno.

    A few people have mentioned Det might be a stunning Closer. I don’t know baseball as well as most of you but that sure seems the case to me. Power. And he doesn’t have to go through the order more than once. And either he or Roark can spot a starter if they go down with stiffness or heaven forbid something major. And those guys it would keep in the minors would be ready to move on up. And they would all bridge the gap nicely between this season and the new wave coming up like Giolito etc…

    I say spend the 15 mil and go for Burnett this year. And get a real solid back up catcher while you’re at it. This rotation, and the window of opportunity for this team is too important to not have a legit backup if or when the big guy strains a hammy.

  7. micksback1 - Feb 8, 2014 at 2:39 PM

    I have a bad feeling that the nats will trade Clip mid season, tell me I am wrong or does anyone else feel the same?

    • David Proctor - Feb 8, 2014 at 2:43 PM

      Nats aren’t going to trade their best reliever mid-season when they’re competing for a division title and World Series.

      • scnatsfan - Feb 8, 2014 at 4:05 PM

        +1

      • natsjackinfl - Feb 8, 2014 at 7:54 PM

        You sure that bad feeling isn’t from Taco Bell? What do you think Rizzo would ask in return for Clippard? David Price? Andrew McCutchen? Giancarlo Stanton? Who?

  8. realdealnats - Feb 8, 2014 at 2:47 PM

    I think you can relax on this one Mick. I agree with DP.

    David Proctor—-I know you said you wanted Burnett–what would your bullpen be?

    • David Proctor - Feb 8, 2014 at 3:10 PM

      Soriano, Clippard, Storen, Stammen, Blevins, Detwiler, Roark/Ohlendorf.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Feb 8, 2014 at 3:41 PM

        +1

      • Faraz Shaikh - Feb 8, 2014 at 5:28 PM

        Can I + that +1? Get that guy signed, Rizzo. Please!!!

      • realdealnats - Feb 8, 2014 at 6:35 PM

        Yeah it’s nice to see you and Eugene and Faraz all agreeing on Starters and BP. I read you guys a lot, w/o commenting much but usually agree right down the line.

        GYFNG!

  9. micksback1 - Feb 8, 2014 at 2:51 PM

    David and realdeal, I generally agree, here is my fear, that the rest of the BP is doing fantastic and Nats feel they need one more bat to seal the deal at mid season, with Clip’s age and contract situation, he would be the logical choice

    • Faraz Shaikh - Feb 8, 2014 at 5:30 PM

      no way Mick. you don’t move an important player off of a contending team. I guess no way is wrong. I see your point but I cannot imagine anyone asking for a reliever with a season and half of control for a bat that is supposed to have impact on the race. those type of players usually cost prospects.

      • DaveB - Feb 8, 2014 at 5:51 PM

        I agree …
        1. The only teams that want a shutdown reliever at the trade deadline are those that are contending … they usually wouldn’t give up an impact bat.
        2. If we are out of contention at the deadline, it may be tempting to trade a Clippard for prospects (ala Capps for Ramos), but hopefully those days are over.
        It’s certainly possible that we get comfortable that we have enough up and coming relievers to trade Clippard next offseason, as he is definitely getting expensive … especially if he wins the arbitration … but I can’t see a scenario where it happens in the middle of a pennant race.

  10. realdealnats - Feb 8, 2014 at 3:04 PM

    I hear you Mick. And in terms of you gotta give to get it’s realistic. But I think Clip has obviously been the gold standard in the BP for three years now. And if he does start to slip, then we wouldn’t get back what we’d need anyway. Say, though, he is going strong, and say even we have Burnett as #5 meaning Det and Roark could very well be in the BP, who would you envision Clip fetching?

    I worry about the bats too. Reason I’m all in for Burnett is we seem locked in on most all the positions so I’m figuring let’s just try to overpower everyone in a bunch of 3-2 and 2-1 games.

  11. sjm308 - Feb 8, 2014 at 5:46 PM

    It probably not going to happen Mick, for reasons already spelled out but I think readleal hit the nail on the head that a guy who is not a closer is just not going to fetch much even if he has been lights out as a setup guy for several years. I am not sure what kind of bat would be available even if we did need one but I am pretty sure Clippard would not be the key piece to that kind of deal. We would probably have to part with prospects and I am not in that camp at all. Now, if Soriano is having a lights out season and we could trade him??? I am all for that and as a closer, he just might bring you what you need. Most teams in need of help in the 2nd half are not looking for set up guys, they are looking for a guy who can close. Yes, Clip did that but there is really no track record.

    I do want to applaud you for thinking ahead. Lets hope your scenario does not play out.

    On Espinosa, the more I think about it, the more I change my mind. At first, it was my hope that there would be some sort of drastic change and he would settle in to the utility role. This was based mostly on how well he plays in the field. 1. I don’t think he can make those changes
    2. I really want to see Rendon continue to improve
    3. While I have no inside sources like Mick, I did see him pouting on camera and that
    can’t be a good thing
    So my hope now is that he plays well this spring and Rizzo will work some sort of magic and get us decent prospects in a trade.

    Go Nats!!!

    • letswin3 - Feb 8, 2014 at 7:38 PM

      I saw Danny pouting too. And I noticed that around that time he seemed to always be sitting alone. I don’t want to speculate too much on that, but I guess it’s possible that there may have been some unexpected tension involved. The guy has a sweet glove, so if he can get his bat warmed up, I’m cool with him as a bench utility infielder, with Rendon as our starter at 2nd. Rendon is going to show us why so many think he’s a top hitter in the future.

    • micksback1 - Feb 9, 2014 at 1:11 PM

      Coac.h

      excellent post as well as by others. you all have put me at ease about Clip being traded mid season, maybe I was projecting to far ahead. I think if Clip’s contract situation was clearer, i would feel a whole lot better.

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