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Now what?

Apr 8, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

AP AP

It’s been three days since Ryan Zimmerman last took his position in the field for the Nationals, departing abruptly after his latest attempt to throw the ball across the diamond sailed over Adam LaRoche’s head with minimal velocity and maximum awkwardness.

Since then, Zimmerman has had a chance to rest. He has had his right shoulder examined by doctors. He has learned the results of an MRI test, which revealed no structural damage to the shoulder, only inflammation. He appeared in Sunday’s game, only as a pinch-hitter, and like the rest of his teammates enjoyed an off-day Monday.

All of which has only delayed the inevitable question that will arise later today, before the Nationals arrive at the ballpark to open a three-game series against the Marlins: Now what?

Zimmerman isn’t being placed on the disabled list. At least, the Nats have given no indication to this point he will. But neither have they said he’s good to go. Would they really just place him back at third base tonight, as though none of this ever happened?

There doesn’t appear to be a right answer to this dilemma. And make no mistake, it’s a real dilemma, with both short-term and long-term implications.

In the short-term, the Nationals must figure out how to navigate their way through the next 156 games. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Zimmerman doesn’t play a large chunk of those games at third base, unless he’s shut down and has another surgery on the shoulder. (Which wouldn’t seem necessary if there’s no structural damage, right?)

But can the Nats take their chances with Zimmerman as their third baseman nearly every night for the next 5 3/4 months? In some respects, they were awfully lucky to make it through five games with him needing to attempt only two “routine” throws to first base. Both, of course, resulted in ugly errors. The odds of him needing to attempt only two of those throws per week are miniscule.

But if he’s not at third base, where is he? The easy answer is to simply convert him to first base right now, but there’s nothing easy about that at all. For one thing, LaRoche already occupies that position and through the season’s first week has played quite well both offensively and defensively. And for anyone who suggests the Nationals could simply trade LaRoche, what exactly could be expected in return for an aging veteran coming off a bad  year, from a team everybody in baseball knows would be desperate to move him?

There also seems to be a misconception that Zimmerman’s transition to first base would be smooth. It wouldn’t be. Remember, he has owned a first baseman’s mitt for all of two months and he has spent all of two innings in a Grapefruit League game there. Also, last time anyone checked, first basemen do have to throw baseballs overhand on a somewhat regular basis.

So, in the short-term, there doesn’t appear to be any getting around the fact that Zimmerman is going to have to continue playing third base to some extent. The Nationals can have him start in place of LaRoche on occasion. They can use him as DH in their 10 interleague games in AL parks. But they can’t keep him away from third base altogether, not unless they’re comfortable with one of their best hitters getting only 200 plate appearances over the full season.

In the long-term, it’s simply impossible to believe Zimmerman can remain at third base. With LaRoche’s contract expiring at season’s end, first base will become open in 2015. The Nationals have several intriguing prospects who could make a case for that position (most notably Matt Skole and Tyler Moore) but the spot is going to have to be held for Zimmerman, who is under contract through 2019 at an average of $15 million per season.

While that is the safe and most likely course of action, it’s also not ideal by any stretch. If first base is locked up for another five seasons, the Nationals lose all kinds of lineup and defensive flexibility for years to come.

That, though, is a matter for another day. Right now, there is a far more pressing question: Where will Zimmerman be tonight? And if the answer is third base: What can possibly be expected from him?

These aren’t the questions the Nationals — or any major-league club — wants to be forced to answer right now.

118 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. Dcnats - Apr 8, 2014 at 6:23 AM

    My $0.02… put him on the DL, in his rehab starts play him at 1st and see what LaRoche does. If he plays well, either trade him for pennies on the dollar, or make Zimm an expensive pinch hitter and backup 1B for the time being… If ALR plays like his last year self, make him sit down and hope Zimm can transition quickly, knowing there will be bumps in the road. You can always pull Zimm from first late in close games for ALR.

    Like Mark said, there are no easy or painless answers to this.

  2. vannordens - Apr 8, 2014 at 6:37 AM

    Mark. You saw Ryan throw this poorly all during spring training. Were you thinking that he would suddenly improve once the season started?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:15 AM

      He finished the 2013 season well but from what I heard in warmups was he couldn’t get his throws over tells me that he shouldn’t have played Friday or Saturday. It was just a ticking timebomb but Friday was Opening Day and they put player before team and the timebomb exploded on Saturday.

    • bcardio - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:09 AM

      And they release Jamey Carroll? He would have given them more options in cases like this. Just saying

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:40 AM

        They got Frandsen who they saw as an upgrade over Carroll.

    • laddieblahblah - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      If Mark saw him, so did everyone in the Nats brain trust, as well as every other player on the team. The team should be focused on winning, but how would you like to be a pitcher walking to the mound and wondering if your defense is going to hurt your chances, and the team’s chances, to win?

      Uh, all I can think of today are possible problems, but Rizzo and Matt are certainly weighing the same issues. They have to. And this must be terrible on a competitor like Zim.

    • therealjohnc - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:20 AM

      By all accounts Zimmerman was moving and throwing well in ST. It wasn’t just the beat writers puffins smoke; an ESPN writer named Zimmerman as a player to watch (in a good way) based on the way Zim looked in Viera. This makes the finding of inflammation rather than structural damage credible, although that won’t hold off the doomsayers and conspiracy theorists.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:41 AM

        The ESPN writer was Bowden who was projecting a big year.

      • vannordens - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:44 AM

        My personal account direct from spring training posted on this blog stated very clearly that Zim was weak and inaccurate on every single throw to first base during fielding practice. I also noted that his sidearm throws to second were strong and on the money. I also wondered how long Matt Williams waas going to put up with losing several games due to Zim’s bad throws.

  3. Joe Seamhead - Apr 8, 2014 at 7:14 AM

    Another good question is if there were/are plans to play Zim at first this year why did Brock Peterson get so much of the time playing first all spring? Why did Zim get all of two innings at first after all of the sensationalism about him getting a new 1st baseman’s mitt?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:17 AM

      That’s another good question but supposedly RZim looked better in Spring Training at 3rd. Still I agree the prudent would’ve been more reps at 1st.

      • JW - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:40 AM

        He was working at first base nearly every day in spring training, according to reports. So lack of game action probably doesn’t matter much. He could play an acceptable first base now if that’s what it takes.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:52 AM

        True but more game reps would have helped. I do agree with you that he could play an acceptable first base now.

        I think some are getting carried away with position changes. Hes been an infielder his whole life. It’s the easiest transition I can think of in an infield transition. People made the similar comments about Rendons position change. Ryan will make it work!

      • vannordens - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:45 AM

        Zim did not look better in Spring training.

  4. kirbs3256 - Apr 8, 2014 at 7:35 AM

    This needs to be nipped in the bud now. If it takes a 15 day trip, it takes a 15 day trip. We can’t deal with him blowing a throw every other game, then sitting out 3…then blowing another throw. Just take care of it now. Hopefully Rendon and ALR stay hot.

    • texnat1 - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:00 AM

      There is no reason to believe it can be nipped in the bud, least of all by a short trip to the DL. That’s the whole problem.

    • Chazz - Apr 8, 2014 at 2:36 PM

      As has been noted, this didn’t just start last week. That “bud” is a full-grown bush.

  5. sjm308 - Apr 8, 2014 at 7:44 AM

    This certainly makes for interesting conversation.

    Finally nice to hear someone who actually writes for a living mention that it is not that easy to just put on a firstbasemens glove, move to the other side of the diamond and just camp out like nothing has changed.

    What Bryce did, moving from catcher to the outfield is still a work in progress but is probably not appreciated as much as it should be and he did have time in the minors to work on those skills.

    What Rendon did, moving from 3rd to 2nd with most of that being done at the major league level should also be lauded.

    It really isn’t that easy.

    Ryan has wonderful skills and certainly can become a good firstbaseman but when you read Boz and he has just one sentence about Zimms sidearm throws being acceptable for the 3-6-3 double play, I have to question whether he really believes that.

    I am also of the opinion that this is physical AND mental and that is a bad combination. This is going to be a very difficult couple of weeks (for this fan) as we see what direction Rizzo/Williams and Zimm take with this. I do know that Zimm in the lineup makes me more confident as far as offense is concerned. He is still one of our elite hitters and I hope whatever scenario plays out, he continues to hit and help this team.

    Go Nats!!

    • JW - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:44 AM

      3-6-3 DP throws need to be made quickly, often on the move, rarely with time for setup. And they’re less than 90 feet. From those perspectives, they’re very similar to the sidearm bunt throws that Zim makes perfectly. So why wouldn’t sidearm throws work for 3-6-3?

  6. Chuck - Apr 8, 2014 at 7:50 AM

    Trade him to the AL.

  7. 3on2out - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:00 AM

    I am compelled to echo sjm308 here. In spite of the cavalier way everyone acts about moving ZIM to 1B, the learning curve will be long and painful. Oh, sure, he will be adequate. But to elevate himself to the skill level LaRoche exhibits…just ain’t gonna happen. Learning the footwork around the bag is difficult as is making the decision when to come off the bag on a errant throw. I would imagine the ground ball part of playing the position will be the easiest but that is just one component of being a quality major league firstbaseman.

    • scbilly - Apr 8, 2014 at 3:36 PM

      Zimm won’t need quite as much skill as LaRoche to be equally effective since he’ll be getting significantly better throws from third base.

  8. Doc - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:11 AM

    If this has been going on from the beginning of ST, then nobody named Rizzo or Williams should be surprised at what’s happening after 6 games.

    Also, whatever has been going on with Zim in the training room and with the medical staff is not working.

    Mark makes the point that Zim at 1B doesn’t do well for developing the farm talent—that and a long term annual $15mm agreement that ties things up beyond reality.

    Again the fallacy of long-term agreements, the bug-a-boo of professional sports.

  9. Hiram Hover - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:20 AM

    It’s not trivial to learn to play 1B – that’s why I’d echo Joe S’s question above – why didn’t Zim get more time over there in ST? (I know they worked him out there in fielding practice, but it’s not the same thing.)

    On the other hand – let’s not overestimate how hard it is, either. Mike Morse was no ALR, but given his bat, the Nats could live with him at 1B.

    Before Seattle first tried him out at 1B in 2006, he’d played the position for 16 games in the minors. He’d played 1B the equivalent of another 30 games or so at Seattle and in the minors before he first appeared there for the Nats in 2009.

    If Zim has to do so on the job training, so be it.

    • Hiram Hover - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:20 AM

      jeez – SOME on the job training.

  10. laddieblahblah - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:21 AM

    Excellent summary, Mark. If Zim continues to fail at 3rd, then he will become a distraction to a team that is solid everywhere else. I am reminded of Rick Ankiel, who decided he could not pitch any longer. In spite of throwing strikes from 300′ feet away in the outfield, he could not manage to do so from only 60′ away when on the mound.

    Ankiel never claimed that his problem was physical. Zim’s explanation that his “shoulder no longer does what my mind tells it to do” sounds like a pretty good description of what happened to Ankiel. If there is nothing physically wrong with Zim’s shoulder, as there was nothing physically wrong with Ankiel’s arm, then how do you fix that?

    This is a very difficult situation for both Zim and the Nats. And they can’t expect to hide him at 1b, either, if he cannot make a routine throw across the diamond on a bunt, or to 2nd base to start a 3 – 6 – 3, or a relay throw to home as the cut-off man for the right fielder. On every pickoff throw over to first, runners are liable to just take off for second, if Zim cannot make the throw to second from first.

    The only “cure” that I can see is a gig as the DH for an AL team. But who is going t eat that contract for a DH?

    Maybe the shoulder comes around, as it seemed to do late last year. But after 2 years of this, and 2 operations, the problem persists. I hope I’m wrong, but color me skeptical.

  11. Greg f - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:30 AM

    The Nats should just switch to American League. Problem solved.

  12. flnatsfan - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:30 AM

    I am convinced that the cold weather is a big part of the problem with Zim’s shoulder. Any body part that you’ve had surgery on/broken/etc is going to ache and feel horrible in cold, damp weather. This could be why he looked better during spring training. I don’t think we should all panic right now. Most of the season will be played in warmer weather.

    • TimDz - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:53 AM

      Valid point, but it begs the question, “what happens in October, when it gets cold/raw again?”

      • zmunchkin - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:09 AM

        Two comments about your October question.

        First, adjusting to cooler weather that comes on gradually is bpvery different from the shock of 45+ plus days in warm weather to non-stop cold and damp.

        Second, let’s worry about October when we know the Nats will be p,syringe in October.

  13. natsjackinfl - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:31 AM

    I blew up Saturday night after his error. I’ve been watching this happen even before the surgeries.

    2006 Spring Training he would air mail throws over 1st base on almost every ball hit right at him where he could take a crow hop with plenty of time. Anything that required movement and a throw on the move would be made effortlessly.

    There was no talk of shoulder issues then. Ryan made all the plays but would continue to air mail an occasional throw, even during his gold glove season. There sure seemed to me, anyway, some underlying problem because I never saw that real strong throw from behind the bag that you see with almost every other competent 3rd baseman.

    Now, it’s way beyond that. The organization can continue to make excuses but it sure is apparent to many of us, as well as opposing scouts that we’ve seen the best of Ryan Zimmerman as a 3rd baseman and it’s never going to get better.

    I love Ryan as a solid member of the Nats organization, but I can’t pretend anymore.

    • knoxvillenat - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:55 AM

      If this has been going on since 2006, and I don’t doubt you at all, one has to wonder if the Nats should not have given Zimmerman that contract extension and taken their chances with him in free agency or traded him prior to that time, assuming he still had trade value. Hindsight I know but the way he is throwing now I have to think his trade value diminishes with each passing year.

      • tcostant - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:49 AM

        I was for the extension at the time, the whole FOF thing. But looking back, he was two years away from free agency and waiting looks like the better move now. No doubt about it.

      • scbilly - Apr 8, 2014 at 3:40 PM

        At the time, the long-term deal for RZimm was like the overlong deal for Werth: necessary duespaying to convince the rest of the industry that the Lerners should be taken seriously.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:11 AM

      NatsJack, I’m glad you said it. The dirty little secret is this is nothing new and most likely a large portion of Ryan’s problem has always been in his head. In his defense it was the pressure of others to change his throwing style that exacerbated the issue.

      You have to put team before player and get it figured out.

  14. natsjackinfl - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:34 AM

    P.S. I have no solutions to offer. It’s an extremely tough situation fo all involved m

  15. natsguy - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:42 AM

    Repeat after me. SHOULDERS DO NOT GET BETTER. THEY WILL ALWAYS HURT.

    They feel temporarily better with rest. BUT THEY ARE STILL GOING TO HURT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN.

    Ask Jesus Flores, Matt Purke, and Chien Ming Wang.

  16. pchuck69 - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:49 AM

    >> Also, last time anyone checked, first basemen do have to throw baseballs overhand on a somewhat regular basis.

    No comparison. The distance a first basemen throws the ball is shorter.

  17. NatsJim - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:53 AM

    Real question – why can’t he just throw side-armed 100% of the time? I played 3B/1B all through little league and high school and was always a side-armed thrower, albeit a slightly (highly?) inaccurate one. Zimm can clearly make strong and accurate side-armed throws on the move, is there some reason he can’t do so on routine ground balls? I wouldn’t advocate doing so for anyone else, but given the current and long-term predicament…

    • adcwonk - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:41 AM

      I vaguely recall that he did that for a few months. Was it early 2013? Or some time in 2012? (I can’t remember)

  18. Candide - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:59 AM

    I’m looking at it from the point of view of the other team’s manager.

    If I know the guy at third can’t throw, am I going to sit there and say, “What a shame; let’s be sporting and not try to take unfair advantage.”?

    Hell, no. “Let’s drop a few bunts down there.”

    • JW - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:09 AM

      The bunt has always been Zim’s best play. Still is. Apparently the part of his shoulder that’s hurt is not involved in those throws. So yeah, hit it right into Zim’s wheelhouse.

      • Candide - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:33 AM

        Bunt it hard, so it gets to him quickly, like a soft grounder. So instead of charging it, grabbing it one-handed, and slinging it sidearm, he’s scooping it up with his glove, making the transfer, taking a step towards first, and heaving it overhand into the tarp.

        If I’m Fredi Gonzalez, I’m doing that until the Nats prove it doesn’t work.

    • Hiram Hover - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:11 AM

      Tho on a bunt, he’s more likely to be charging and slinging sidearm, no?

  19. bowdenball - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:02 AM

    “Also, last time anyone checked, first basemen do have to throw baseballs overhand on a somewhat regular basis.”

    Has anyone ever actually checked? Because I don’t think this is right. It would be hard to research I suppose but I bet it doesn’t happen more than once a week. How many times does a 1B field a grounder and try to turn a double play? The average team turns well under one DP per game and the vast majority of those start with the middle infielders. I bet the average team turns less than 10 conventional second-to-first DPs that start with the 1B every year. Other than DPs the vast majority of 1B throws are shovels to a pitcher covering a bag. There might be the odd throw across the diamond in unusual circumstances, but it’s exceedingly rare.

  20. natsjackinfl - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:08 AM

    On a more positive note, I see Matt Williams as a real fast learner. I doubt anyone has a green light to steal third base without receiving a sign. And I’m pretty sure match ups with relievers and hitters will consider previous history (see Clippard/Heyward).

    I like that he moves guys around in the order on pretty much a daily basis.

    In other words, there is no status quo that is subservient to winning baseball games. It’s all about winning.

    I like that.

    • laddieblahblah - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:37 AM

      Me. too.

    • realdealnats - Apr 8, 2014 at 6:52 PM

      +1

  21. Joe Seamhead - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:17 AM

    Somebody define “adequate” and “acceptable” when talking about a first baseman on a winning baseball team. If RZ has severe arthritis in his shoulder now, how long before Arthur comes to visit other parts of his body. Sorry, I love the guy, but I don’t agree with Boswell’s “Zimmerman Safe At First” column. Move him to first and we’ll still be hearing “there’s a line drive past a diving Ryan Zimmerman,” but it will just be from the other side of the diamond. This is a tough dilemma,with a ton of repercussions, with not such an easy solution as many seem to think.

    • adcwonk - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:40 AM

      If RZ has severe arthritis in his shoulder now, how long before Arthur comes to visit other parts of his body

      FWIW, I don’t think that necessarily follows. I know lots of us older guys who have arthritis in only one joint, because of overuse, or an old injury. (And RZ probably has both)

    • Hiram Hover - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:43 AM

      Above, I used Michael Morse as an example of an acceptable 1B after relatively little experience (more than Zim has had yet, of course).

    • JW - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:45 AM

      No one has ever said Zim has SEVERE arthritis in his shoulder. And arthritis isn’t cancer – it doesn’t spread. Geez, you want to destroy Zim like a racehorse after some bad throws?

    • nattyboh1 - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:51 AM

      Presumably, he would be able to position himself deeper at 1B because there is no long throw across the diamond and avoid the passed balls. So, the whole “past a diving Zimmerman” thing should be fixed by the move.

  22. stoatva - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:19 AM

    Scott Hatteberg: [Responding to being asked to play first base for the Oakland A's] I’ve only ever played catcher.
    Billy Beane: It’s not that hard, Scott. Tell him, Wash.
    Ron Washington: It’s incredibly hard.

  23. Joe Seamhead - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:21 AM

    And if I am an opposing manager and i have a guy on third with less then 2 outs I’m bunting up the first base line and sending the runner until the 1st baseman can show me he can make that throw home without airmailing it.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:29 AM

      Joe, the difference at 1st base is that Ryan can play normal depth and get the range he once had. His range deteriorated late in 2012 and most of 2013 because he was playing out of position. I think he will be very good at 1st as he gets comfortable there.

      He can use his sidearm throw to 2nd and underhanded to pitchers covering 1st.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:31 AM

        The one area I’m concerned about is infield in and play at the plate.

      • laddieblahblah - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:52 AM

        The underhand option to the pitcher would not be there for balls back-handed in the hole. One of Zim’s continuing problems has to do with setting his feet properly when having to wheel around while making a throw. If he declines to go after grounders in the hole, because of an inability to throw accurately from there, that hole will be bigger and more vulnerable to a batted ball making it to the OF.

        I also recall seeing him make some pretty bad tosses to 2nd base with his sidearm throwing motion when attempting to start a 5 – 4 – 3. I think you are right in that they should have given him more reps over there in ST. If they had done so, we would have a much better read on just which problems he might have at 1b.

        Fielding bunts and throwing to 1b is a lot different for a first baseman than a third baseman. From third, Zim has perfected the sidearm throw on the run. As a first baseman, he would have to field the bunt, stop, and turn to make that throw to 1b, which would require him to reset his feet before making that throw. Properly setting his feet while turning or spinning has never been a strong suit with Zim.

        They will almost certainly try him over there, at some point, especially if he cannot be relied upon at 3rd. Hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. The Nats had better be prepared for the worst.

        Everyone can see this problem coming, all the way from Atlanta.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:59 AM

        Speaking of Atlanta during the ST radio broadcasts they were actually making fun of Ryan on the air. If you go back to Saturday on Twitter you can find a Barves fan compare Ryan to the man in the Volkswagen commercial.

        Sadly, others joke and Nats fans cringe. There is no easy solution and with LaRoche playing well and Espi coming around, Ryan might ve relegated to pinch hitting for a while as he rests the shoulder.

        In the meantime I hope he is taking grounders and scoop throws at 1st in practice

      • Eric - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:01 AM

        “I also recall seeing him make some pretty bad tosses to 2nd base with his sidearm throwing motion when attempting to start a 5 – 4 – 3.”

        Wasn’t it on an attempted 5-4-3 DP that Zim launched the ball into right field against Atlanta or maybe the Cubs early last season? I vividly remember watching it, but can’t remember which game it was…

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:04 AM

        You are correct, 9th inning vs Atlanta in Game 10 last year.

      • NatsLady - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:04 AM

        I recommended this last year–even when it’s not a doubleplay, throw to 2nd and let Desi or the second baseman cover it as if it were a doubleplay. The vast majority of the times you will get the runner. If you have time to set and throw overhand (and think), just throw to second.

    • bowdenball - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:14 AM

      If you have a man on third with less than two outs and you bunt the ball well enough that the first baseman fields it and is so far from home that he need to make a good throw, you’ve already scored the run. I don’t care if it’s Keith Hernandez manning first base with Rick Ankiel’s arm magically transplanted on him.

      It’s bizarre how people feel the need to invent all sorts of preposterous scenarios to argue that Zimmerman can’t play first because of his arm. Quick- what do you know about Adam LaRoche’s arm? How about Morse? Dunn? Nick Johnson? Do you remember seeing those guys make a lot of difficult throws? Of course not, because it almost never happens.

      • laddieblahblah - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:33 AM

        “It’s bizarre how people feel the need to invent all sorts of preposterous scenarios to argue that Zimmerman can’t play first because of his arm.”

        Maybe he can, but we won’t know until he’s been tried over there. Meanwhile, we have 2 years of inconsistency already on the books, and eyewitness accounts from both Mark and vannordens that he was having trouble with routine throws all through ST this year. Then we have Jack revealing that Zim has had throwing problems since 2006, even before the shoulder injury.

        The argument is that we won’t know until we see him make some of those plays at 1b in real time, but his recent history, and long term throwing problems, strongly suggests that management had better be prepared to deal with the worst. It would be irresponsible of them not to do so. No one has to invent “preposterous scenarios” when making the routine play has been a continuing problem with RZ, for years.

  24. stoatva - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:24 AM

    Doing physical therapy after bilateral knee replacements two years ago convinced me that I never want shoulder surgery. Those folks looked miserable!

  25. nats1924 - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:28 AM

    If the NL had the DH this situation wouldnt be that big of a deal.

    I am not a fan of the DH, because of year round interleague its only a matter of time before the NL adopts it.

    • knoxvillenat - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:49 AM

      IIRC Charlie & Dave were saying something about this very subject over the weekend but said there was no real support among NL clubs to move to a DH other than the Cubs (with Theo Epstein from the Red Sox). I too wonder about the possibility of going in this direction given the full time interleague play?

      • scbilly - Apr 8, 2014 at 3:45 PM

        I keep hearing that there’s more support in the AL to drop the DH than in the NL to adopt it, although nowhere near enough in either league to actually approve a change. We can expect to see the two leagues play a slightly different game for a long, long time.

  26. Theophilus T.S. - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:31 AM

    The prudent decision is to not rush any decisions. The best chance for a livable outcome is to put him on the DL until the inflammation is completely, utterly gone. If it takes 30 days, that’s better than (A) doing unsalvageable damage to the shoulder or (B) watching more Hail Marys from 3B. I think the Nats can limp through to early May w/out him — I think — and without the distraction and anxiety. If an MRI can tell you there’s inflammation it can certainly tell you when there’s no inflammation. Tinkering w/ LaRoche isn’t the answer: do you bench the $15MM dollar player or the $12MM player? Either way you’re giving up someone who has attributes (in LaRoche’s case, a LH power bat) that this team needs. Shut Zimmerman down — completely — and see what you’ve got before pushing the panic button.

  27. tcostant - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    I don’t know what happen, but this is two years in a row that the Nationals organization really dropped the ball.

    -In Spring 2013 we knew Danny had an issue. Talk was already there that Rendon’s future might be at 2B. Danny started bad and guess what happen, Rendon goes to the minors and instead of playing him everyday at 2B (or even hald the time), he plays less then a half dozen games at 2B and then is called up to replace Danny at 2B when the Danny situation gets bad. Good planning could have got Rendon more major league ready at 2B

    – In Spring 2014 they talk all winter how Ryan will get time at 1B and then he plays 2 innings there in the spring.

    What are we thinking?

  28. NatsLady - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:00 AM

    Stats for Week 1

    Formatting isn’t perfect but I wanted to get this out there.

    • Section 222 - Apr 8, 2014 at 4:16 PM

      good stuff. thanks for posting the reminder.

  29. Eric - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    sjm! I missed this the other day:

    “AND, a great sticker delivered by Dueces – Thanks Eric, we waited for you by 104 but wanted to be in our seats before first pitch
    Negative beside the overall play of our team was I did not get to meet or thank Eric in person”

    You’re more than welcome…definitely bummed we didn’t get to catch up. I was a little late getting to my seat…sorry about that!

  30. Eric - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:38 AM

    Oh, and did anyone catch the Chalk Talk overview on 106.7 this morning? The biggest dish I heard (in that I hadn’t read about here yet, but maybe I just missed it) is that Williams said Fister will be back “in 30 days.” This was last night, so that means he’ll be back around May 7th.

    • tcostant - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:54 AM

      You figure next week he starts throwing off a mound and the 20 days of minor league rehab starts and then five days after his last start. Makes sence to me.

    • JW - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:57 AM

      That would mean they’re sending him on a minor league rehab stint. Makes sense, and the guys down there will appreciate the nicer postgame spreads.

  31. snerdblurter - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:48 AM

    As an aside, I’m beginning to wonder if Stras will ever learn to get over himself when his teammates make untimely errors or the umpires make questionable calls. He seems to do fine recovering after his own mistakes, but can’t seem to let go when things which are out of his control go awry. At what point can this no longer be chalked up to immaturity?

    • bowdenball - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:55 AM

      Did you notice any change in Strasburg’s demeanor after Zimmerman’s error on Saturday? I didn’t. He got hit hard the next inning but that could easily have been a coincidence. He’s gotten hit hard before without a defensive error precluding it. He’s also had shutdown innings after defensive errors before.

      Seems to be like you’re just buying into a narrative instead of looking at the facts, and that’s both counterproductive and unfair to Strasburg.

      • thelatencn - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:11 AM

        +1

      • texnat1 - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:14 AM

        You doth protest too much bowdenball.

        He breaks down when things aren’t the way he wants them. Be it a defensive error, cold weather, hot weather, the mere fact that the other team is Atlanta, etc.

        Its been going on long enough to call a trend.

        As I’ve posted before, my theory is that he has an identity crisis and needs to stop being counseled to pitch to contract but rather to just go after people with his stuff.

      • Eric - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:17 AM

        Isn’t that exactly what “pitch to contact” is? Go after them with your stuff, rather than nibble and trick?

      • Hiram Hover - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:51 AM

        +1.

        This idea of him being a fragile head case is a theory in search of evidence. I have yet to see anyone who argues it look systematically thru his record to support it–look at his performance before and after errors, and compare him to other pitchers’ performances in similar states.

        Instead, we get a few cherrypicked examples, some of which don’t even provide that much support anyway–like Sat’s game. It was unfortunate but it was not a meltdown.

      • Eric - Apr 8, 2014 at 2:46 PM

        The Cubs game last April looked rather obvious to me. I think Stras even acknowledged it, I believe just before or after he pitched in San Diego soon thereafter.

        That said, there have been a number of times where Stras has done the precise opposite, including one instance where Zim had an error, and Stras very explicitly pointed to Zim and nodded, as if to say, “I got your back, no worries,” and then got them out of the inning in short order.

        I was at the game Saturday so I wasn’t able to see his reaction. Regardless of what it was, I can’t blame him for being frustrated sometimes. It happens. Aside from the Cubs incident, he seems to handle these things well enough.

        Would it be nice if everyone were like JZimm and just never reacted to anything at all? Sure, but I think JZimm sets an exceptionally high bar in that regard.

    • tcostant - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:56 AM

      Zack Greinke will mentor him on that after he signs with L.A.

      • texnat1 - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:23 AM

        Eric, I don’t think so. I think pitch to contact is trying to induce contact, not swings and misses. Pitch to contact might also explain why he now pitches in the mid 90s rather than the upper 90s for the most part on his fastball.

        To me, he looks like a guy who doesn’t know who he is as a pitcher. And that’s why when things go wrong, he doesn’t know what to rely on to get him out of trouble. I think he should go back to relying on a near 100 mph heater.

      • snerdblurter - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:24 AM

        I’m not interested in visible changes in his demeanor (although he has shown his frustration in the past), I’m interested in results, and this has been an issue for several years now, particularly in comparison with other members of the staff and what you’d expect from a pitcher of his caliber who is the unofficial #1 guy.

        Unfortunately, I dont think there are any facts or stats that could be applied so its really just an exercise in anecdotal observations, but this issue has become part of “the narrative” for good reason and has been noted by Bob, FP, Charlie & Dave and folks on this message board.

        Maybe it is counterproductive and unfair to Stras to bring it up, but this is a good a place as any to vent, and I’m fairly certain he’s not reading these posts…

      • snerdblurter - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:25 AM

        ps. previous reply was to bowden

      • texnat1 - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:27 AM

        Snerd, you are correct. And if you want more evidence, look at the fact that even Mark Z. wrote a story PRAISING Stras for ONLY giving up 4 runs in 6 innings the other day when he was struggling with the weather.

        If this wasn’t an issue, you wouldn’t be praising your ace for giving a performance that would result in an ERA of 6.00 if you replicated it over the course of the season.

      • therealjohnc - Apr 8, 2014 at 3:45 PM

        The reason that Stras was praised for his Opening Day start was that he showed intestinal fortitude. He got hurt by a 3 run HR in the first and didn’t fold the tent – he gave up one run on a sac fly over the next five innings and gave his team a chance to get back in the game. In baseball, stuff happens. It’s how you react to stuff that is important.

        As for the “meltdown” theory of Strasburg, by this time it has become an exercise in confirmation bias. Whenever bad things happen after initial adversity, it is used to further dig in the narrative. Examples and data contrary to the narrative need not apply – they run into the perception screen and bounce right off.

      • texnat1 - Apr 8, 2014 at 5:10 PM

        All bow down to therealjohn’s perception as the Undeniable Truth. Only us mortals suffer from bias. In fact, as noted by NatsLady below, the Nats themselves are suffering from this same bias, as they acknowledge the problem and are working on it.

        Don’t they realize that the problem only exists in the eyes of a few internet posters!?

  32. Eric - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    “No one has ever said Zim has SEVERE arthritis in his shoulder. And arthritis isn’t cancer – it doesn’t spread.”

    Arthritis doesn’t spread, per se, but it can be degenerative.

    From the wiki article on arthritis:
    Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis.[9] It can affect both the larger and the smaller joints of the body, including the hands, wrists, feet, back, hip, and knee. The disease is essentially one acquired from daily wear and tear of the joint; however, osteoarthritis can also occur as a result of injury.

    From the wiki article on osteoarthritis:
    Osteoarthritis (OA) also known as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis, is a group of mechanical abnormalities involving degradation of joints,[1] including articular cartilage and subchondral bone.

    It’s true: no one said it’s severe. But, imo, something severe is going on in Zim’s shoulder at the moment. I really hope for his sake that it’s not osteoarthritis.

    • David Proctor - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:18 AM

      You’re correct that it can be degenerative, but it’s not going to magically start spreading to other body parts, like he was implying.

      • Eric - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:23 AM

        Ah, true, I forgot about that implication.

        Anyway, I just think an MRI finding of “inflammation” has been cast as a definitively good thing, whereas I think it may not be given the possibilities surrounding arthritis.

        In any case, I really hope he’s just over done it with the his throwing program. I think that’s the simplest possible explanation, and it definitely seems plausible. The revelation that he’s throwing continually, even between innings, kind of blew my mind.

        Re: the cold weather, while I’m sure it doesn’t help, he started battling soreness down in FLA.

    • Joe Seamhead - Apr 8, 2014 at 12:46 PM

      If you look at what I said, I didn’t say he had severe arthritis, either. I said “IF” he had severe arthritis.

      • Eric - Apr 8, 2014 at 12:57 PM

        And, I think your overall point is salient. IF it’s severe and/or IF it’s osteoarthritis, we’re looking at the potential for a tragic outcome (in terms of a wealthy professional athlete, that is).

  33. thelatencn - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    Theo’s DL suggestion deserves consideration, but I would prefer to have his bat available on the bench for a month. Why not keep Hairston on the DL, keep Tymo around so we have a backkup for LaRoche in emergencies, and let Zimm be the #1 go-to guy when it’s time for a pinch hitter?

  34. whatsanattau - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    Knowing there is no apparent structural damage and there is inflamation, shoot him up with medically prescribed steroids, give him 2 more days to rest and send him back out there for the next three months. Revealuate in August, and shoot him up again if they are on track for the playoffs. If LaRoche is ever tradeable maximum value wlll be the last week of July.

  35. whatsanattau - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    And, Souza – not Moore, Peterson, or Skole – will be the 2014 answer to 1B/OF…. Because he is going to crush the ball this year and force his way up …

  36. Drew - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    Scott Hatteberg (on being asked to play first base for Oakland) “I’ve only ever played catcher.”

    Billy Beane: “It’s not that hard, Scott. Tell him, Wash.”

    Ron Washington: “It’s incredibly hard.”

    (Bad news for Matt Skole. Good news for Danny Espinosa.)

  37. langleyclub - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    This situation addresses the concern about whether or not Danny Espinosa is going to get 300 ABs. If Zimmerman and to some extent ALR lose 200+ ABs to Danny Espinosa, the Nats offense is considerably weaker.

    BTW, interesting that mental issues appear to be playing role in RZ’s Zimmerman’s issues, while Rendon does not seem to be bothered about playing wherever the team needs him,

    • NatsLady - Apr 8, 2014 at 12:00 PM

      I think there is a vast difference between fear of failure (yips) and fear of pain. RZ, even when he doesn’t have pain, has the memory of pain. He would need a long period of pain-free throwing to overcome that–and it doesn’t sound like that’s in the cards, given that he said he felt worse now than he ever has since the surgery.

      • Eric - Apr 8, 2014 at 1:00 PM

        +1000 NL

        I’m as convinced as I’ll ever be about something regarding a stranger’s mental state: anything “in his head” about this derives directly from real physical pain, physical limitation (e.g., range of motion), and/or fear of re-injury or exacerbated injury.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 8, 2014 at 1:48 PM

        I’m in that camp also on the mental pain side and also wish they never tried to change RZim’s throwing mechanics as his 3/4 arm slot worked much better than the over the top which is now a crap shoot.

  38. David Proctor - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    This has been going on since 2006, but it didn’t matter. Everybody makes errors. Zim would airmail a few throws. So what? He was still an elite defensive 3B. That is really not comparable to what is going on now.

    • adcwonk - Apr 8, 2014 at 12:55 PM

      This has been going on since 2006, but it didn’t matter.

      Where in the world is this meme coming from? 2006 was his rookie year, for crying out loud. He was a gold glove in 2009! As late as 2011 he had a higher FA and “range factor” than the league did at 3b.

      • David Proctor - Apr 8, 2014 at 12:59 PM

        Zimmerman has always airmailed throws. In 2007, he made 23 errors. In 2009, he made 17. He has always been a little on the high side as far as his throwing errors go.

        My point in saying that it “didn’t matter” was that he was still an elite defensive 3B despite it. He had amazing range and got to so many balls that the occasional overthrow was really not that big of a deal. You never feared the throw like you do now at least.

      • adcwonk - Apr 8, 2014 at 2:20 PM

        I guess my point is this: while he made 17 errors in 2009 (playing 154 games!) — David Wright, Mark Reynolds, and Chipper Jones, all playing 10-20 fewer games than RZ, each had more errors than RZ.

        Granted, I have no idea if a greater proportion of his errors were “airmail” vs other kinds, compared to the other guys.

        My larger point is that some of the comments are bordering on leaving the impression that he’s not been a good fielder since 2006, and that is most emphatically not the case.

  39. Joe Seamhead - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:39 AM

    We’re all worried about the guy, maybe even to the point of being irrational, maybe even hysterical! But the fact is, we all have “hope springs eternal” syndrome as far as our 2014 hopes and expectations of the Nats. First Fister, then Ramos, and now maybe Zimmerman are going to miss a bit of time. It worries us as fans. Human nature.
    Go Nats! Godspeed on a recovery, Ryan!

    • natsfan1a - Apr 8, 2014 at 3:02 PM

      Now, that’s a post behind which I can get. +1

  40. NatsLady - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:57 AM

    @HH, I would agree with you EXCEPT, the evidence is the team knows Strasburg’s “perfectionism” is getting in the way of his performance, they have had McCatty talk to him, they have had JZimm talk to him. They don’t say “it’s a coincidence,” they are actively working on the “problem.” That says to me they think there IS a problem, unless it’s all PR, of course.

  41. 34natsfan - Apr 8, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    I hate the thought of it but sounds like you are making case to trade Zimm without saying it. On that thought, I have to wonder how much longer he will be able to field at all. DH may be in his near future.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 8, 2014 at 1:53 PM

      He’s not getting traded IMHO. I think unless Ryan requested a trade which is doubtful he will collect his $100,000,000+ and retire a rich man and whatever they do with him positionally will be 1st base.

  42. 34natsfan - Apr 8, 2014 at 12:48 PM

    It seems to me that management keeps acting like this is a new problem, and are content to punt and procrastinate, hoping it will get better. I understand they are trying to preserve and prolong this window, but by putting off the day they enact a plan to deal with it, they may be hastening its end.

  43. sunshinebobby - Apr 8, 2014 at 12:56 PM

    This is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. I watched him suffer throwing on Opening Day during between innings practice, and immediately knew something was wrong. He was throwing like a girl (no offense to the ladies here). They must’ve seen this all spring. Yet he played all of two innings at first base.

    You spend seven weeks in ST, supposedly experimenting and getting ready for all possibilities, and he plays two innings at his new position?

    Shades of Manny Acta!

    I personally think he has to ride the bench for awhile, and becomes the first $100 million contracted pinch-hitter. Rendon is an upgrade offensively and defensively at third. Espi is superb defensively at second. ALR is without par at first. Desi is Desi at short.That’s a terrific defensive infield. If we’re going to win games with pitching and defense, you can’t afford the FoF to be sailing them into the first base stands twice a game.

    The Nats have either ignored, disregarded, played down or mistreated Zim’s situation for basically three years now. I personally don’t think 1B is all that much of an option for him at this stage of his career. Great guy, FoF, a tremendous ambassador for the sport and the team. Just one problem:

    Where do we play him?

    Short answer: you don’t.

    • therealjohnc - Apr 8, 2014 at 3:51 PM

      Except that it wasn’t just the Nats who were saying that Zimmerman looked like his old self at third base during ST; there were several reports from other, independent sites that had people in Florida watching the games and practices that said Zimmerman looked good. It’s just possible that the reason that the Nats only had Zimmerman play a couple of innings at 1b in ST was that, based on his performance the last couple of months of 2013, the medical reports that they were getting, and the initial returns of his on the field performance in ST, that he was fine.

      Now the shoulder blows up, and second guessers abound. Well, I would point out that a couple of years ago the Nationals used their #1 pick on an impact player who plays … third base. The Nationals have a Plan B firmly in place. They just thought they could get through 2014, and maybe longer, before making a move.

      • vannordens - Apr 8, 2014 at 5:41 PM

        I repeat. I witnessed his poor throwing at the first infield practice seesion of the spring training. I am not second guessing anyone. He was this bad in spring training. I could not understand why the TV announcers were thrilled that Zimm was”playing back farther this year”. I could onbly assume that they flew in for the day and had not watched the spring training infield practice or one could assume that they were shills.

  44. adcwonk - Apr 8, 2014 at 12:58 PM

    It seems to me that management keeps acting like this is a new problem, and are content to punt and procrastinate, hoping it will get better.

    It may look that way to us, but I’m sure Rizzo and company have been working on scenarios for a while now. They’re not going to hang someone out to dry. I’m sure that Plan A was to hope that RZ can get through the season by hook or by crook so that that $10M ALR, if he’s hitting well, has a place in the line-up, too.

  45. natsfan1a - Apr 8, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    I’m behind in reading posts and comments, but this is interesting:

    Mark Zuckerman @ZuckermanCSN

    .@AdamKilgoreWP noted Zim was throwing sidearm only, even on routine plays. He actually did that a few years ago when dealing with issue.

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