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Zimmerman gets first work at first base

Feb 25, 2014, 1:48 PM EDT

AP AP

Updated at 2:55 p.m.

VIERA, Fla. — Ryan Zimmerman went through his first-ever defensive drill at first base Tuesday morning, learning how to pick throws in the dirt as the former Gold Glove third baseman begins the slow process of familiarizing himself with a new position.

“It felt good,” he said. “Pretty easy.”

There wasn’t a whole lot to the early-morning drill at Space Coast Stadium. Zimmerman took turns with natural first basemen Adam LaRoche and Tyler Moore scooping throws from manager Matt Williams, a rudimentary drill that didn’t feel all that different from drills he has been doing for years on the other side of the diamond. The only differences: a new mitt with a lot more webbing and some adjustments to his footwork.

“Just catch the ball. That’s what we’ve been doing our whole lives,” Zimmerman said. “You’ve just got to work on the footwork and get comfortable over there. Once you’re done with that, getting comfortable, then it’s just second nature.”

Williams emerged from the session impressed with the 29-year-old’s ability to snatch up tricky throws.

“He’s got great hands, man,” the manager said. “So he’s really good at it.”

Zimmerman hasn’t fielded any grounders at first base yet, and he won’t be appearing in any Grapefruit League games over there until he has had plenty more time to familiarize himself better with the nuances of the position.

The Nationals, though, would like to get Zimmerman to the point where he could play 15-to-20 games at first base this season, giving LaRoche some days off and potentially laying the groundwork for a permanent position switch sometime down the road.

Zimmerman, who went through some well-documented struggles at third base early last season while still recovering from shoulder surgery, has embraced the idea and is willing to take more time this spring to prepare himself for more playing time at first base.

“I’m going to continue to do that and just be ready so if the opportunity does come up, I’m ready to go,” he said.

“It’s a progression,” Williams said. “But he’s certainly willing to do it, and he’s excited about doing it. And if we get a chance to put him over there for a couple of innings this spring, we’ll do that.”

  1. Doc - Feb 25, 2014 at 2:08 PM

    It probably should have been done last season, while RZim’s arm/shoulder was in recovery.

    We could have had his bat, when ALR’s wasn’t ‘working’!

    Most times it takes a new manager to make the changes that the old manager resisted.

    • natinalsgo - Feb 25, 2014 at 2:45 PM

      With Espinosa and LaRoche struggling offensively and RZim with his defensive issues there were too many dykes to plug.

      The replacements available were Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore and they weren’t doing well as replacements at the time. It was an infield disaster in April at 3 of the 4 spots.

      Rendon did a great job when they called him up but after a 13-14 April record and some devestating losses to the Barves the damage was done early on with a large gap in the NL East and the loss of confidence.

      • RPrecupjr - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:15 PM

        Ahem….as this is essentially a G-rated blog, we should learn the difference between dyke/dike…for the sake of the children ;)

    • RPrecupjr - Feb 25, 2014 at 3:28 PM

      While that’s a nice thought Doc, whose bat would you have put at third? Chad Tracy’s? Rendon, leaving Espi’s “bat” at second? Or Lombo? Except when Harper went down we needed him in left since TyMo wasn’t hitting either. I’m glad last year is just that – last year. Let’s see what happens this year before we start realigning the planets.

      • Doc - Feb 25, 2014 at 4:05 PM

        Could have had RZim’s bat in there against leftties. All the other positions could have played out with Lombo and Rendon.

  2. tcostant - Feb 25, 2014 at 2:13 PM

    I can see the future!

    • adcwonk - Feb 25, 2014 at 2:47 PM

      Me, too. I mean, it seems pretty obvious, no? ALR doesn’t get renewed next year, RZ moves to first, and taking over at third is Rendon. Taking over at 2d is either Espi, or some new guy that Rizzo gets.

      Here’s my question: doesn’t ALR see it, too? He must know this is his last year as a Nat. What’s he thinking? How does he feel about it?

      • David Proctor - Feb 25, 2014 at 2:50 PM

        I don’t think it’s that simple. If Zimmerman can throw, there’s no point in moving him. His bat plays a lot better at 3B than at 1B. Of course, if he can’t throw, then it’s a no-brainer.

      • adcwonk - Feb 25, 2014 at 2:55 PM

        Well, hit bat might play better at 3b, but unless ALR really steps it up, it may be a big improvement to the line-up to get rid of ALR.

        And if ALR does step it up — then he’s going to want more than a 1 year contract (as I’m sure some other teams will offer), and I don’t think the Nats will give it to him.

      • David Proctor - Feb 25, 2014 at 3:01 PM

        ALR is gone regardless of what happens with Zim, I think. I think it will be easier to find a hitting 1B than a 3B who hits as well as Zim.

      • TimDz - Feb 25, 2014 at 3:00 PM

        If ALR has a killer year, the Nats hold an option on him that they would merely exercise….I am pretty sure that it is a club option and not a mutual option….

      • TimDz - Feb 25, 2014 at 3:08 PM

        Went back and checked…It is a mutual option…

        That said, even if ALR really kills it this year, I don’t see anyone beating 15 million (the option salary) for one year, let alone two years….

      • jd - Feb 25, 2014 at 3:09 PM

        David,

        I agree with you in general but there some points to consider:

        1) Zim will eventually move to 1st or DH, the question really is how soon?
        2) Rendon is a natural 3rd baseman.

        The big questions are:

        1) Is Zim’s bat potent enough for 1st base? clearly he loses value by moving across the diamond.
        2) What if Espinosa really can’t inprove on last year’s performance?

        Ideally, I think the best defensive infield for 2015 has Zim at 1st, Espinosa at 2nd and Rendon at 3rd but as you say it’s not that simple.

      • tcostant - Feb 25, 2014 at 3:35 PM

        Ironicly this might come down to who plays better this year Tyler Moore or Espi. I could see Moore getting into a job share with ALR this year. If he does well, he might keep Zim at 3B. But if Espi looks like a starter, he will push Zim to 1B.

      • adcwonk - Feb 26, 2014 at 9:40 AM

        But my question remains: what must ALR be thinking as he’s seeing RZ and TyMo getting reps at 1st?

        (Not that I’m expecting anybody to answer it: I’m just thinking it must be hard for ALR to see his successor getting groomed right in front of him).

  3. David Proctor - Feb 25, 2014 at 2:26 PM

    Taylor Jordan to start Friday against the Mets.

  4. natinalsgo - Feb 25, 2014 at 2:51 PM

    RZim, “Pretty easy”. With all the trepidation and self-doubt and nervousness, Zim was like Mikey with his cereal “he liked it”!

    This gives management options which they didn’t necessarily have last year.

    If Espinosa shows any signs of offensive ability, I like what Williams can do with that lineup.

    The only unhappy person in training camp is Tyler Moore. If RZim can deftly handle first, Williams could go with Jamey Carroll.

  5. micksback1 - Feb 25, 2014 at 2:55 PM

    It makes sense to give Zim reps at 1b. First of all, anything that could pro long Zim’s career and keep him healthy through the course of the season, I am all for. Secondly, this would allow ALR to stay healthy as well. If ALR last season here is 2014, then it makes sense to move Zim to 1b

    • cvillegoodtimes - Feb 25, 2014 at 3:43 PM

      So if Zim plays first against tough lefties what does the rest of the infield look like? I hear people talking about the distant future, but what about this year? I assume Desi just stays at SS (instead of Espy) which leaves 2b and 3b. Would WIlliams move Rendon to his natural 3b? putting Espy at 2b? what if Espy cant hit still? Leave Rendon at 2b and start Hairston at 3b? How will this work this year?

      • sjm308 - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:31 PM

        What I have read and of course nothing is set in stone but at sometime this winter Williams talked about Espi being the one who will move around the diamond, not Rendon who Williams wants to settle in to just one position as he continues to grow.

  6. knoxvillenat - Feb 25, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    What if Moore has a big spring training season and shows he can handle lefties? Does this change the roster? And by that I mean do we need both Espinosa and Carroll on the 25 man?

    • cvillegoodtimes - Feb 25, 2014 at 3:47 PM

      I don’t think both Espy and Carroll will make the roster. Its one or the other.

      • pjnat - Feb 25, 2014 at 4:16 PM

        As much as I enjoyed watching Jamey (Praise the Lord) Carroll when he played for the Nats, he’s beyond making a quality contribution. In 2012, he posted a .211 batting average and an OBP of .267; at 40 years of age, how can you not expect him to be on the decline, i.e. improve meaningfully upon those numbers?

        As has been commented on ad nauseum, Espinosa needs to reclaim his spot on the big league roster or establish/increase his positive value to make a trade possible. He can only do so by playing with the Nats.

        Deciding between Carroll or Espinosa is a no-brainer.

  7. Doc - Feb 25, 2014 at 4:12 PM

    Skole is the known/unknown quantity. He can play either 3B or 1B—sorta like Jim Thome, a hitter to whom Williams has compared him.

    At some point our farm system dries up, with all the late draft choices that come with being a winner.

    But until then, let’s enjoy the ride.

    Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Natsssssssssssssssssssssssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. unkyd59 - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:02 PM

    Another option, that makes sense, but is seldom speculated on here, is Werth. He’s here for 3(?) more years, after this, and is the only position player who’s actually long in the tooth. Whether or not the team is talking about it, it makes too much sense to dismiss…

  9. breakbad1 - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:44 PM

    I have been very surprised by the lack of commentary regarding the throwing skill required to play first base.

    As an approximation, I would say 99 percent of RZ’s career throws have been on force plays. His job has been, by and large, to get the ball in a very, very wide area, so a guy like LaRoche or Dunn can catch it and make the force play at first.

    How will he do when he fields double play balls on first base? Will he be able to make a huge reverse-right turn and then hit a tiny spot where the shortstop is holding his glove to make the pivot and throw to first? There really is no evidence, even in his healthy years, that he can do this?

    What about tag plays at third? — At home? Plays where he cuts the ball off from the outfield and has to make a pinpoint throw on a tag play?

    There is no evidence, anywhere in RZ’s career, that he can make pinpoint throws on tag plays.

    In Thomas Boswell’s column a week ago, he cited advanced statistical measures that placed RZ as the 5th worse defensive player in all of MLB.

    I wish Ryan all the best at first, but the evidence suggests further problems.

    • Sonny G 10 - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:59 PM

      That’s why they call it a try-out. They’re trying him out to see if there is evidence that he can play first base and how well. Matt Williams is seeking ways to improve the team by creating more options. Nothing wrong with that.

    • dgourds - Feb 26, 2014 at 4:39 AM

      Certainly good points Break, but the incidence of meaningful throws from first vs. third is small. Zim is on a long, expensive contract. If he continues to have throwing issues from third, you minimize the defensive impact by moving him to first, or trading him to the AL as a DH (very unlikely).

  10. vannordens - Feb 26, 2014 at 3:01 PM

    Last week at infield practice, Zimm was hitting the short throws to second base right on the money. His throws to first on the other hand were wildly inaccurate.

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