Before the Nationals’ 8-5 loss to the Miami Marlins today, a rival scout expressed a growing sentiment surrounding the Nationals. He had seen third baseman Ryan Zimmerman throwing across the diamond in warm-ups for much of the spring, and he hadn’t seen much improvement over last season’s awkward motion, the one Zimmerman underwent offseason shoulder surgery to eradicate.
“He looks the exact same to me,” the scout said. “He’s still laying it off. That’s the term you would use. … He wants to throw on the run and be athletic. When he has a routine play, it looks the same. If he feels freer, where’s the arm strength?”
Then the game started. In the second inning, Zimmerman fielded a routine groundball and fired a strong throw across the diamond. Later, Zimmerman snared a ball with his backhand and, from somewhere near the top step of the third base dugout, rifled an off-balance throw to first base.
Shortly after, the same scout sent a text message: “Throwing actually does look better. I stand corrected. It’s gotten better recently.”
Zimmerman may have work to do to create more converts — another scout for an American League team, unprompted, asked Monday night, “What’s up with Zimmerman?” But from his perspective, the spring training Zimmerman spent rebuilding his throwing mechanics has left him feeling strong and prepared for the season.
“I feel like I’m right where I need to be,” Zimmerman said. “The whole goal was to be ready by April 1. Today was finally a game where I got some groundballs. I’ve been playing for a week or so and haven’t really got much. It was nice to some chances today. It gets better each day.”
Evaluators who have watched Zimmerman play since his career began have said his throwing motion looks different, even after surgery, from his motion in 2009 or 2010 – more sidearm and less assertive. But that doesn’t mean Zimmerman still can’t make it work. Last year was a mental slog for Zimmerman. This spring, he has felt more free and natural.
“Physically, it feels good,” Zimmerman said. “It feels strong. It feels back to normal. It feels good to be able to field a groundball and take your time and do what you’ve always done. I think that’s the best thing.”
Since he made his debut March 16, Zimmerman has not made any throwing errors this spring. He has frequently forced Adam LaRoche to scoop throws in the dirt between innings, but those throws have decreased as Zimmerman joined the rest of the Nationals’ regulars in playing every day for the past week.
“You can take as many groundballs as you want,” Zimmerman said. “Until you get into a game, you don’t have that game speed. You don’t have fielding the groundball, seeing the runner, playing deeper, shallower – there’s just a lot more variables once you’re in the game. Once you get into the game, there’s so many other factors that come into play. That’s what you really need to get into.”