Apr 6, 2014, 12:53 AM EDT
Whether there has been a mental component to Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing issues over the last two-plus years remains a topic of discussion. There is no debating, however, the physical component of this longstanding problem, as became painfully obvious Saturday night during the Nationals’ 6-2 loss to the Braves.
After committing another ghastly throwing error in the fourth inning — one that helped open the floodgates and send the Nationals to their 15th loss to the Braves in their last 21 games against their division rivals — Zimmerman revealed his surgically repaired right shoulder was hurting again. And Matt Williams decided not to take any chances.
Zimmerman, who had his shoulder operated on following the 2012 season, was removed from the game and is now scheduled to be examined by doctors Sunday, a potentially alarming development for the Nationals both in the short and long terms.
“We thought it prudent to get him out of there and make sure that everything’s OK,” Williams said.
Zimmerman hoped he had moved beyond this issue late last season, when after a long and often embarrassing battle with simple throwing mechanics he appeared to rediscover the form that made him a Gold Glove Award winner only four years earlier. But some of the throwing woes cropped up again during spring training, and they most certainly have reared their ugly head again since the regular season opened Monday in New York.
Zimmerman has needed to attempt only two “routine” throws across the diamond through the season’s first five games, but both ended in errors, the ball sailing well past Adam LaRoche’s reach at first base. Watch the 29-year-old work out before games or take practice throws before innings, though, and it’s clear those two errors weren’t an aberration.
“He’s our captain on this team,” LaRoche said. “He’s a big piece of it, to say the least. To watch him go through that, it’s frustrating. We’re all behind him, to help him do whatever we can to help him out. I know it’s eating at him. That’s a guy that’s in that cage, when nobody’s around, throwing all day long. Nobody wants it worse than he does, and he’s putting the time in trying to find it.”
Zimmerman’s error Saturday night, on a grounder to his left by Andrelton Simmons, came with the Nationals leading 2-0 and with ace Stephen Strasburg on the mound. That play, though, completely changed the game’s complexion. One run scored on the error itself. Another scored moments later when Braves pitcher Julio Teheran poked a fastball from Strasburg to right fielder for an RBI single.
The floodgates completely opened one inning later, with Atlanta bunching together four singles and a walk to produce four more runs, knocking Strasburg from the game before he even completed five frames.
The whole scene surely conjured up memories of last season’s travails, both for Zimmerman and Strasburg, who frequently struggled to overcome defensive mistakes behind him. But this wasn’t exactly a meltdown for the right-hander, who did put himself in trouble throughout the evening and showed no outward signs of a mental break once things started to go downhill.
“I think just from last year, I want to make a conscious effort of not letting that stuff bother me,” Strasburg said. “I don’t really feel like I got out of my gameplan or anything. I felt like I was giving everything I had and battling. I just left some pitches up.”
The outcome of the the game — yet another loss to a Braves club that has become something of a mental hurdle for the Nationals as a whole — was troubling enough. The possibility of losing the franchise third baseman due to a shoulder injury that refuses to go away, and all the short-term and long-term ramifications of that injury, is far more troubling to a ballclub that only five games into the season has more than its share of significant concerns.
“You need his glove. You need his bat in that lineup,” LaRoche said. “Kind of like [injured catcher Wilson Ramos]. If it happens, it happens. Hopefully it’s not too long. But early in the season, the most important thing right now is just getting him healthy and getting him back out there. If he needs a few days, or whatever it is, it’s not the end of the world. But we’ll miss him, if in fact he’s out for awhile.”
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