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Zimmerman gets his first taste of first base

Mar 17, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

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It lasted all of two innings, and during that time only one baseball was hit in his general direction, but Ryan Zimmerman’s brief stint at first base Sunday during the Nationals’ 2-1 exhibition loss to the Tigers in Viera was significant if for no other reason than the fact it happened at all.

For several years, the notion of Zimmerman as a first baseman has been floated around, but it had always been theoretical only, never reality. Then came the revelation this winter that new Nationals manager Matt Williams had asked Zimmerman if he’d be willing to take a crack at the position, just in case he was needed on the other side of the diamond a few times in 2014.

Zimmerman, a third baseman throughout his professional career aside from eight games at shortstop in 2005 (only one of them in the majors), agreed to give it a shot and over the last couple weeks began taking some extra work at first base before games in Florida.

And then came the top of the sixth inning Sunday at Space Coast Stadium. Instead of returning to his usual position, Zimmerman trotted over to first base, wearing a much larger glove than anyone had ever seen him don.

And sure enough, within minutes a ball was headed his way on anything but a routine play for a guy with zero experience at the position in his life to that point. Don Kelly rapped a grounder to Zimmerman’s right, his broken bat flying down the line as well. Zimmerman, who had been holding a runner on first, made the clean scoop and turned as if to throw to second base, perhaps thinking he had a shot at a 3-6-3 double play.

Just one problem: The ball squirted out of his over-sized mitt during the exchange. Zimmerman could only retrieve it and step on first base, recording the easy out but failing to get the lead runner or attempt the double play.

“Just getting used to the bigger glove,” he told reporters afterward, and how can anyone fault him considering the situation.

There’s still plenty more about first base for Zimmerman to get used to, and it will continue to be an ongoing process for the 29-year-old. He’ll probably appear several more times there over the final two weeks of camp, perhaps starting a game at some point.

The idea, as it always has been, is for Zimmerman to make about 10-to-15 starts at first base, giving Adam LaRoche days off against tough left-handers. That could, in theory, lead to a full-time position switch, whether later this season, next season or beyond.

Whether the Nationals follow through with that plan remains to be seen. It depends on Zimmerman’s comfort level at first base. It depends on LaRoche’s performance throughout the season. It depends on what other options Williams has off his bench. And, of course, it depends on Zimmerman’s defensive performance at third base.

There’s still time for that to all sort itself out. But the foundation began to be laid Sunday. It may have lasted all of two innings, but the first two innings of Ryan Zimmerman’s career at first base could prove mighty significant when it’s all said and done.

  1. Joe Seamhead - Mar 17, 2014 at 6:19 AM

    Want to get an over/under bet going on how many games Ryan appears at first in 2014?

    • sjm308 - Mar 17, 2014 at 6:51 AM

      Will be an interesting #
      Depends on so many variables
      How is LaRoche hitting?
      How is Zimm playing at 3rd?
      Is T Moore on the bench & how has he hit?
      Is our utility infielder (whoever it may be) playing well?
      Who is the opposing pitcher?
      And of course the major factor is health.
      My optimistic side wants to say under 10 which I think would mean both LaRoche & Moore show they are playing well & don’t need no stinkin help
      I think if he plays more than 10 it’s not a good sign for this club.

      Go Nats!

      • natinalsgo - Mar 17, 2014 at 6:56 AM

        Good analysis. Tyler Moore could make the roster and be the primary backup 1st baseman and affect Ryan’s games at 1st.

  2. TimDz - Mar 17, 2014 at 6:21 AM

    Meanwhile….snowed in here, so no work…..hope to get a bunch of updates today…..

    • knoxvillenat - Mar 17, 2014 at 6:49 AM

      Snowed in? So how are people suppose to get to The Dubliner this morning?

      • sjm308 - Mar 17, 2014 at 6:57 AM

        We had our corned beef & cabbage last night in anticipation of the storm. (She actually brined the meat!!)
        Guinness in the large can is nowhere near the draft but had to do.
        Luckily the Jameson’s & Irish Cream were not compromised and finished off the meal well.
        I guess my trip to Olney Ale House will be by dog sled

      • sjm308 - Mar 17, 2014 at 6:57 AM

        We had our corned beef & cabbage last night in anticipation of the storm. (She actually brined the meat!!)
        Guinness in the large can is nowhere near the draft but had to do.
        Luckily the Jameson’s & Irish Cream were not compromised and finished off the meal well.
        I guess my trip to Olney Ale House will be by dog sled

      • natsfan1a - Mar 17, 2014 at 9:14 AM

        One thing about having a home-based business is that there is no such thing as being snowed in, so it’s work for me today (at least, as much work as the husband and the cat will allow for :-) ).

      • knoxvillenat - Mar 17, 2014 at 10:08 AM

        Olney Ale House? Now you’re getting in my old neck of the woods. I don’t miss DC traffic but there are certain watering holes I sorely miss in the DC/Montgomery County area!!

  3. Section 222 - Mar 17, 2014 at 7:44 AM

    I wonder who the first person here to raise the Zim to first in 2014 prediction was. Whoever it was was roundly ridiculed I’m sure. Could this bring Ghost out of retirement to take a victory lap?

    • Section 222 - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:03 AM

      Here’s my entry. I’m sure someone else suggested it first though:

      Zim’s arm is a real concern. I’m starting to see 1B in his future I’m afraid.
      –Carnac the Magnificent, I mean Section 222, 6/19/11

      http://natsinsider.blogspot.com/2011/06/sloppy-end-to-sparkling-streak.html

    • nats128 - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:10 AM

      Section222, those who make large predictions or unpopular observations get some bashing here. I dont think any was worse than the bashing when Ghost predicting Rendon to 2nd base or even when he said Lombardozzi would play LF. Peric was certainly the most boisterous on the Z-man to 1st base however I dont believe he was the first to make the suggestion as it has always been contingent on what the team would do with Laroche.

      • Section 222 - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:17 AM

        IIRC, peric’s Z-man to 1B was part of his “Rendon will always play 3B because Espi is headed to the HoF” rap. 1 for 3 ain’t bad I guess.

      • Section 222 - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:18 AM

        And by the way, Ghost wasn’t bashed for predicting Rendon would play 2B, except by peric. Plenty of us were very happy with that idea given how awful Espi was at the plate at the beginning of the year.

      • nats128 - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:33 AM

        May be bashing is the wrong word tho there was alot of skepticism as to people said it wouldnt happen becuz of Rendons ankles or other reasons it wouldnt happen.

    • scmargenau - Mar 18, 2014 at 10:50 PM

      It was the poster who’s name starts with P!

  4. sjm308 - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:02 AM

    Was it Ghost or Peric?

    • nats128 - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:12 AM

      I was just making that comment above on that sjm. One commentor said it every day however I dont know who was the first.

    • Section 222 - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:13 AM

      If peric predicted it before June 2011, he was still Anon. Gets no credit for that.

    • Section 222 - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:34 AM

      May he have the same success with that strategy as did Mike “We don’t need a lefty in the pen because Clip, Mattheus, and Stammen are good against lefties” Rizzo.

      I always thought that the availability of a relief pitcher was determined based on how many games in row he had worked, not on how many batters he faced — precisely because to come in and face one guy as a LOOGY, for example, you still have to warm up just as much as the guy who pitches a whole inning. So the solution to the problem Price sees isn’t to let guys pitch to more than one batter, it’s to not warm as many guys up. Obviously, the two are related but how much is he really going to save his bullpen by doing this? You still have to have someone ready to come in if Marshall is getting tagged by RH hitters right?

      • nats128 - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:39 AM

        First thing that caught my eye is that Price joins Matt Williams and Ausmus in Managers ramping up the running game.

        On relievers I always thought there are setup men who pitch to everyone regardless of which arm you pitch with and then there are relievers who have clear splits that are specialists. Theres no right or wrong until you are proven right or wrong.

  5. Joe Seamhead - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:36 AM

    Interesting take on Price/Baker. It really depends on the pitcher.

    As to first baseman Zimmerman? 2 innings in a ST game doesn’t quite constitute that a switch has been made, or is even imminent. Nor does establish that he will/can successfully make the switch. The day is possibly coming soon to stick a fork in ALR, but I’m not registering him as done yet.

    • Section 222 - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:52 AM

      Of course that’s true Joe. It’s still a milestone though. And for those of us who saw this coming for years, vindication of sorts. I’m not sticking a fork in ALR, or in Zim at 3B either. I hope both of them return to form (2012 at the plate in ALR’s case, 2009 in the field in Zim’s case.)

      Whether Zim ultimately makes a move to 1B depends on two things: (1) Whether his arm recovers and he’s able to play 3B well for years to come. I’m hopeful but skeptical because his throwing problems long pre-dated any injury or surgery. You can look it up. And (2) who we can get to play 2B, presuming Rendon would move to 3B. Is it Espi, or someone else. And can a serviceable 1B be more easily found if Zim can continue to play third.

      • nats128 - Mar 17, 2014 at 9:03 AM

        222, well said. There is many factors in Zimmerman shifting to 1st. Yesterday was a first step!

      • sjm308 - Mar 17, 2014 at 9:56 AM

        Dueces – add to your two points the additional factor of several of our young guys continuing to make progress. Moore is not really that young but I think he has looked better at first base this spring compared to what I have seen in the past. Skole continues to impress as well and you never know about someone like Peterson having a Mikey Morse type jump. Yes, it largely depends on Zimm but it is not like our cupboard is totally bare (which I honestly thought it was before this spring).

        As I wrote early in this post, for this year, I think LaRoche is a huge key and I like to think that he will play well in his contract year.

  6. NatsLady - Mar 17, 2014 at 8:57 AM

    This doesn’t look good.

    http://www.spc.noaa.gov/products/md/md0196.html

    • ArVAFan - Mar 17, 2014 at 9:15 AM

      I have learned way too much weather terminology this winter, since I started following the Capitol Weather Gang’s blog and reading all the way to the bottom (trying to make sense of the DC weather). I agree that it doesn’t look promising for this afternoon. I wonder if they reschedule for later in spring training, or just skip the game entirely?

    • nats128 - Mar 17, 2014 at 9:17 AM

      Took a while for me to figure out what that was! Be safe Florida!

  7. masterfishkeeper - Mar 17, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    I’m in Orlando, for work. 80% chance of rain and T-storms today and tonight.

  8. NatsLady - Mar 17, 2014 at 9:45 AM

    Zach Duke being Zach Duke.

    Milwaukee led, 5-3, heading into the bottom of the ninth and with Zach Duke on the mound.
    Duke gave up three consecutive singles to start, then a wild pitch with Chris Owings at the plate cut the Brewers’ lead to 5-4…[Roenicke gets tossed]… Play eventually resumed, and Tony Campana capped the Diamondbacks’ comeback with a single to right that scored the winning run….
    Duke wound up not recording an out in the inning.

    http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/sports/250544031.html

  9. Theophilus T.S. - Mar 17, 2014 at 9:46 AM

    Another undistinguished day for the bullpen. Or at least for those members counted as serious candidates.

    • Joe Seamhead - Mar 17, 2014 at 10:35 AM

      Speaking of not holding runners:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/nationals-journal/wp/2014/03/16/nationals-continue-to-struggle-holding-baserunners/

      I have had issues with team this all the way back to the Riggleman days, [except when Pudge was calling for a huge percentage of fastballs]. The common denominator is the pitching coach. This is McCatty’s weakest part of his coaching from this fan’s perspective. It’s up to the individual pitcher to hold runners, but there has to be emphasis put on it from the staff, which Matt Williams has made clear he wants improvement in that area. I was a Davey Johnson fan, but his and McCatty’s policy seemed to put a low priority on holding runners and it drove me nuts.

      • Joe Seamhead - Mar 17, 2014 at 10:36 AM

        Where’s my copy editor? I had issues with this team on this all the way back to…

  10. nats128 - Mar 17, 2014 at 10:43 AM

    Lots of Minor League moves and Souza already sent down. LHP Sammy Solis to AA Harrisburg, INF Mike Fontenot, OF Brian Goodwin and C Koyie Hill, Eury Perez and Steven Souza Jr. to AAA Syracuse,

    • nats128 - Mar 17, 2014 at 10:44 AM

      Sorry, not sure where Brian Goodwin is heading.

  11. nats128 - Mar 17, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    New Post

  12. nats128 - Mar 17, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    New Post

  13. Section 222 - Mar 17, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    Totally with you on holding runners JoeS. After the disaster of Game 5, you would have thought that that would be a very high priority last season. And yet…

    I’m hoping that Fister can be a good example to the other pitchers. Maybe having someone on the staff who is actually good at it will show them that it can be done, regardless of poor coaching. I like Stras’s focus on that this spring.

    sjm, I agree with you on the development of the “young guys.” That’s part two of what I said — who’s available to play 1B other than Zim (assuming he can play a decent 3B still). Do they want a Moore or a Skole in the lineup or an Espi or Carroll. Lots of moveable parts.

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