What’s behind Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing errors?

brushback_harper(Updated at 9:15 with at-bat of the game)

After Ryan Zimmerman made his fourth throwing error of the season in the fourth inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Miami Marlins, he turned to his teammates in the dugout for advice. Zimmerman underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason to clean up the physical ailments that bothered him last season. This season, however, was supposed to be different. He is still building his arm strength, yet after another frustrating throwing error, which again contributed to unearned runs, he looked for help for those that know him best. The frustration had clearly gotten to him.

“(Adam LaRoche) obviously has played with me for a while,” Zimmerman said. “He’s got the best seat in the house. Just little things. But nobody really sees too much. (Ian Desmond) played next to me for a long time as well. I’m working on it. I’m doing everything I can to make those plays and help this team. Unfortunately right now, I’ve made a few errors but I’ll go back out there tomorrow and hope every ball’s hit my way and I’ll go right back at it.”

Here is Zimmerman’s dilemma: he made all the needed throws before and after his error on Tuesday, including a difficult charging, barehanded scoop-and-throw in the eighth inning. But again, it’s on another routine play that Zimmerman inexplicably erred. And worse, it was yet again magnified, this time when starter Dan Haren allowed a three-run home run four batters later.

“With what he went through in the offseason, and the rehab, I said it was probably not feel completely comfortable until June,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “But I mean, he’s made a lot of great throws. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t pick him up. A couple of them made mistakes and guys hit the ball out of the ball park and that kinda exacerbates the error. But if we do what we’re capable of doing around an error that doesn’t ever happen. Just magnifies it.”

Zimmerman is at a loss for words for why his throwing has been an issue, committing four errors since Friday. The throws aren’t wildly errant (and the mistake Friday against Atlanta was a difficult play) but leave an uneasy feeling because they’re just a tad off. Tuesday’s throw pulled LaRoche off first base just enough to force a quick back-handed tag attempt that wasn’t in time. Zimmerman has stumbled on the routine throws when he has time.

“That’s why it’s so tough, too,” he said. “Everything feels good. I long toss, my arm feels strong, everything’s good. It’s just a matter of me sticking with it and not mentally getting frustrated, just going out there and knowing that I can do that kind of stuff. I know I can do that.”

Desmond was one of the teammates Zimmerman consulted in the dugout on Tuesday. At one level, Zimmerman’s throwing errors may even be more of a mental hurdle now than a physical one.

“I think him coming to us, he knows something’s going on,” Desmond said. “But it’s not going to derail his stardom. He’s an unbelievable talent, and he’s got to remember that. He’s got a Gold Glove in his house. He knows how to do it. He needs to get out of his own head, just like we all do. I made 40 errors a year. It’s part of the game. You have to go through that stuff. And there’s nobody I think would be able to bounce back from it more than he would.

“In a sense, it’s a confidence thing. He’s never come to me before about how to hit a homer, or how to drive in a runner from second, or how to make a diving play. So I would imagine his confidence is a little down if he’s coming to me. I have some things that I see, but I think he’s to the point now where it’s right there. He’s gotten 100 times better. Everything is already moving in the right direction. He makes one and then he makes five good throws. He’s moving in the right direction. And obviously having surgery doesn’t help anything, having to take time off and rehab and try to find that slot again.”

Zimmerman’s throwing has looked sporadically shaky over the years. Last season, his shoulder was more damaged than he could feel. He made 19 errors, 12 of them throwing errors, the second-most among major league third basemen behind Pedro Alvarez. In 2011, he missed 58 games with a torn abdominal muscle that required surgery and as he returned he changed his throwing mechanics (the crow-hop, upright throwing) to guard against future injuries to his midsection.

But even in 2010, Zimmerman made 17 errors, 11 of them throwing, second-most among third baseman behind David Wright. In his Gold Glove 2009 season, Zimmerman made 17 errors, again most of them, 14 in fact, were throwing errors, most in the majors. Errors are often an unfair statistic because athletic and elite third baseman, like Zimmerman, who can reach balls on difficult plays that others can’t and are involved in more plays than the average fielder.

Zimmerman hopes, and is confident, that with time the issues will continue to improve. Johnson thinks that the building shoulder strength will help.

“It can’t get any worse,” Zimmerman said. “That’s the frustrating part, too. I’ll have a couple games in a row where I do fine and it feels great, then all of a sudden I just kind of let one go. But the arm feels great, the strength’s there. Now it’s just a matter of kind of honing it in and obviously being more effective.”

FROM THE POST

Behind Ryan Zimmerman’s error and Dan Haren’s shaky performance, the Nationals unravel in an 8-2 loss to the Marlins.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Bryce Harper, Denard Span still sick but Davey Johnson hopes for Wednesday returns

Danny Espinosa likely to return Friday against the Mets

Nationals at Marlins discussion thread: Game 14

Bryce Harper, Denard Span out while battling the flu

Nationals-Marlins lineups

Jayson Werth on Boston Marathon: Sporting event being targeted ‘a scary thought’

Davey Johnson’s difficult balance of finding playing time for the bench

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse was postponed because of rain.

Reading 4, Harrisburg 3: Paul Demny started and allowed three runs on 10 hits over 5 2/3 innings. Ian Krol pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings and has allowed one run over seven innings to start the season. Sandy Leon went 2 for 4 with a home run and three RBI.

Potomac 3, Salem 2 (12): Michael Taylor and Cutter Dykstra each had three hits; Dykstra drove in two runs, including the game-winning single in the top of the 12th. Jason Martinson, who earned Carolina League Player of the Week honor on Tuesday, went 2 for 4. Starter Robbie Ray allowed one run on four hits over six innings, but walked four and struck out four.

Hagerstown 11, Lakewood 2: Wander Ramos, Estarlin Martinez and Tony Renda each knocked two hits. Shawn Pleffner hit a two-run home run, Ramos drilled a three-run home run and Brandon Miller smacked a grand slam. Brian Dupra allowed one run on eight hits over 5 1/3 innings.

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Bryce Harper, Denard Span still sick but Davey Johnson hopes for Wednesday returns