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Zim confident at 3B, but ready for reps at 1B

Feb 18, 2014, 6:27 PM EDT

AP file photo AP

VIERA, Fla. — Though he acquired a first baseman’s mitt over the winter and is ready to take some reps on the other side of the diamond this spring, Ryan Zimmerman is confident he can become an elite defensive third baseman again this season after a strong conclusion to 2013.

“I think with the way I finished over there, the way my arm feels now, I think I can help this team win more games at third base,” he said Tuesday. “But if there’s an opportunity for me to play 10-15 games at first base, and it helps us win some of those games, then I’m down to help out any way I can.”

In the wake of a frustrating year in which he was charged with 21 errors and posted a career-worst .945 fielding percentage, Zimmerman reported to camp over the weekend feeling better about himself defensively than he has in some time. Some 16 months removed from shoulder surgery, he has regained full strength in his right arm and was able to go through a regular, offseason workout regimen before leaving for Viera.

But with the Nationals looking for a right-handed alternative who could give Adam LaRoche a day off here and there this season, new manager Matt Williams asked Zimmerman this winter how he’d feel about learning the ropes at first base.

The 29-year-old’s reaction: “I told him, ‘Hey, I’ll do whatever he thinks is best to help us win as many games as we can.'”

Zimmerman got himself a first baseman’s mitt and has played catch with it a couple of times, but he has yet to actually stand on that side of the diamond and take grounders or perform any other tasks. The transition will be a slow one, with Zimmerman gradually getting to the point where he’s comfortable enough to play a few innings in a Grapefruit League game.

“He’s going to be playing third base 99 percent of the time,” Williams said. “But we want to make sure that he’s comfortable over there. That happens in early work. That happens in extra work. He’s told me he’s more than willing to do that and excited about doing that.”

Zimmerman had words of caution for anyone who assumes he can simply slide from one position to another at the major-league level.

“For some reason, everyone just thinks that’s where they put the adult softball guy and he can play big-league first base, which is not the case,” he said. “I’ll work at it. [Williams] made it very clear, and I respect him for that, that he doesn’t want me to feel uncomfortable or put me in any situation to fail. He wants to make sure that I feel comfortable over there and know what I’m doing before he puts me over there.”

Though he’s been open to the notion of filling in at first base when needed, Zimmerman is adamant he has many good years left at third base. He can exude that confidence after a strong finish to and otherwise shaky 2013 in which he committed 16 throwing errors but only four over his final 50 games and zero over his final 21.

With his shoulder feeling stronger, Zimmerman was able to adjust his positioning, taking a few steps back and giving himself more time and more space to make plays. That allows him to take the field this season with more confidence … though he admits he’s not all the way back in that regard yet.

“I’m a lot more confident obviously, but for me, I think I need to have a year like I used to have,” he said. “Play third base like I know I’m capable of and like people expect me to play. Then once I go a year doing it and being consistent, that’s when you can really say the shoulder’s fine.

  1. scnatsfan - Feb 18, 2014 at 6:45 PM

    And when Zim makes his first error at 1b the pitchforks will be out in force like in Young Frankenstein

    • natinalsgo - Feb 19, 2014 at 10:54 AM

      Do you want some whine with that cheese?

      Transitioning to 1st base is the easiest transition in the diamond. Bryce certainly didn’t whine when he was switched from catcher to outfield.

      Zimmerman had the worst UZR and Runs Saved record in the majors last year. He deserves the criticism he received and will continue to receive until he proves he can play his position either at or above average.

      He should welcome a chance to play 1st base as it may save his career but more importantly han that it’s a team sport and might just make this team better!

  2. Joe Seamhead - Feb 18, 2014 at 7:03 PM

    “For some reason, everyone just thinks that’s where they put the adult softball guy and he can play big-league first base, which is not the case,”
    At last an intelligent thought expressed regarding this whole thing. It’s not as easy as many here think. I still think the whole concept in this case is ill conceived. Why? Because Zim, in spite of 2013, is still a great third baseman.

    • sjm308 - Feb 19, 2014 at 12:29 AM

      Seamhead – you don’t need to go back to last year or even this winter but this is something I have mentioned several times. The talk of Zimm or Werth just simply picking up and moving to a new position is just not that easy.. It sounds good and it gives people something to talk about but its just not going to be that smooth a process.. This is another reason to really appreciate Bryce. He NEVER played an inning of outfield until becoming a pro and pulled it off with great ease. Unfortunately, not everyone is a superstar like Mr. Harper.

      I think Ryan will be ok at first but I am still betting that behind closed doors, he is letting his manager know that he wants to play 3rd for as long as possible. Team first and all that but Zimm has been at one position for quite some time now and except for last year, I think he has done pretty damn well.

      Go Nats!!

      • nats128 - Feb 19, 2014 at 7:20 AM

        It isnt like asking Z to go from 3rd base to 2nd base like Rendon. I think theres already to much drama being spewed out on this.

        You have a manager who went through what hes asking Z to do. Matty was a Gold Glove 3rd baseman and Dusty Baker got him a 1st basemans glove.

        Werth OTOH played some 1st base in the Minors before as well as being a converted catcher and as far as we know its a non issue to mention him becuz hes not being asked to transition as far as we know.

        We saw Morse also make the transition from another position as he had little experience at 1st base with only 4 previous starts at 1st base before Riggleman moved him over to 1st and the guy never complained about it and embraced it. Was he great? No. Was he serviceable? Yes. Did Morse once complain? No. Did the fans complain? All the time.

        From Kilgore yesterday: There is a difference between believing and knowing, and even as the warm, welcoming sun beats down on him Tuesday afternoon, Ryan Zimmerman could feel that gap. He fielded grounders and buzzed throws across the Space Coast Stadium diamond from third base. Some balls sailed. Some bounced. Most burrowed into a coach’s glove. Strength has returned to his shoulder. He believes he will revive his old ability. But he doesn’t know. How could he?
        “For me,” Zimmerman said, “I need to have a year like I used to have.”

  3. sunshinebobby - Feb 18, 2014 at 7:14 PM

    I love you, Mark, but you failed to report one simple thing: how is Zimm throwing at third? Is it lollypop city again? Or is he ripping it while throwing three quarters/overhand?

    • Hiram Hover - Feb 18, 2014 at 7:24 PM

      Might not be anything to report – have they done any fielding practice yet?

      • ArVAFan - Feb 18, 2014 at 7:53 PM

        No, not really. Apparently there was some batting practice for the position players, and certainly the pitchers and catchers have been doing certain baseball drills (bullpen, bunting, pitches in dirt, fielding comebackers) and conditioning drills, but there hasn’t been anything like a true fielding drill (at least when I left today). Someone will correct me if I missed this, but I believe the first workout for the full team is the 20th.

    • David Proctor - Feb 18, 2014 at 7:42 PM

      They haven’t even had their first official workout yet, there’s really no way Mark could know.

    • nats128 - Feb 19, 2014 at 7:22 AM

      See my post above with the observations from Kilgore:

      “Ryan Zimmerman could feel that gap. He fielded grounders and buzzed throws across the Space Coast Stadium diamond from third base. Some balls sailed. Some bounced. Most burrowed into a coach’s glove. Strength has returned to his shoulder. He believes he will revive his old ability. But he doesn’t know. How could he?”

  4. Section 222 - Feb 19, 2014 at 12:07 AM

    To be an elite third baseman again, Zim has to be able to do three things that he wasn’t able to do last year (after the surgery) and the year before (before the surgery). The first is to be confident and accurate on routine plays, without taking two extra crow hops when he throws. The second is to be able to fire the ball across the diamond after making a backhand stab on a ball hit down the line. And the third is to be able to play at a normal depth and cover the ground he used to cover and make the amazing stops to either side that he used to make. Can he do all three of these things by Opening Day? I really, really hope so. I’m tired of holding my breath every time the ball is hit to him, and I’m sure he is too.

    • Joe Seamhead - Feb 19, 2014 at 2:50 AM

      And if he can’t? Even if if his throws are back to normal, what if he still doesn’t have the range? Why do so many people think that if that!’s the case that either he, or the team, will be so much better off by playing him out of position to play first base where the elite players that play there also demonstrate great range, not to mention “natural” instincts.Sure Ryan could learn to play an adequate 1B, but the odds are against that he would ever be an elite player there. I never liked the idea of “sticking” infielders that couldn’t play their position in the outfield to hide their inadequacies. I like the idea of moving them to first even less. This organization used to do things like that out of desperation. All of that said, I still think that Ryan is a long way from being finished at third. For the sake of the Nats I hope that I’m right, because if he doesn’t still have the reflexes to play a great third then he doesn’t have the reflexes to play a great first.

      And sjm308? I don’t think that Bryce Harper has made the transition to the outfield with “ease.” By all accounts he struggled mightily in the minors learning to make good reads, and because he is still young and such an exceptional athlete he is quickly getting better, but he still doesn’t always get a good jump on the ball off the bat, and he still has a lot to learn as to where he’s supposed to throw the ball. Now that said, I believe Bryce Harper will develop into an elite defensive outfielder.

      • Section 222 - Feb 19, 2014 at 10:33 AM

        I’m with you on not moving Zim to first. (For one thing, you would need someone who can hit to play second, and I’m not convinced Espi will be that guy.) I was just commenting on what it will take for Zim to be an elite 3B. He definitely was not an elite defender for the past two seasons.

  5. JamesFan - Feb 19, 2014 at 5:57 AM

    I think all of this is premature. Move Zim to first and replace him with who? Rendon? Is there any evidence that Rendon will play a better third base than Zim even at a 2013 level. Sure, tinker around with Zim at first. I would mind seeing them do that with Harp as well. But I really would like to see Moore or Skole at first for an extended period before moving a solid regular from a key position.

  6. Chazz - Feb 19, 2014 at 8:54 AM

    Move Zim to first and replace him with who?

    No, if you move Zim to first, he’d replace Who. To replace Zim at third, I Don’t Know.

    • cvillegoodtimes - Feb 20, 2014 at 3:27 PM

      +1

  7. Chazz - Feb 19, 2014 at 8:58 AM

    “For some reason, everyone just thinks that’s where they put the adult softball guy and he can play big-league first base, which is not the case,” [Zim] said.

    No, you let the White Sox sign him to DH. Everybody knows that.

    • natinalsgo - Feb 19, 2014 at 10:41 AM

      It’s good that you’re making a joke out of it since the Z-man gives these ridiculous quotes.

      He acts like he’s the first guy who endured this. Frank Robinson told Alfonso Soriano he was going to play LF and that was filled with angst but Robinson like Matt Williams had played different positions in his career and would help with the transition.

      Robinson told the story of how he was Rookie of the Year and All Star outfielder who was told to get a 1st basemans glove. He never questioned it and did as told. The following year he was told to get an infielders glove and he played some 3rd base. Every year from then on Frank carried several gloves and he was a 2 time MVP and All Star and Gold Glove outfielder in his 3rd MLB season.

      I think Ryan Zimmerman needs to do some deep soul searching and change his attitude. His defensive demise last year and failure at critical times cost the Nats in the standings. He should be embracing this opportunity and cut the bull. There is no easier position to master on the diamond than 1st base. Pujols became a Gold Glover at 1st from his transition at 3rd. Zimmerman could do the same.

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