In a story posted online now and in tomorrow’s paper, we delve into Ryan Zimmerman’s early throwing struggles and gauge opinion, from inside and outside the Nationals, as to what’s going on there. Zimmerman himself is puzzled, even asking teammates about what they’re seeing. Two scouts arrived the same conclusion: The problem is not the health of his arm, but the nasty thoughts in his head. “He’s got The Thing,” one of them said.
The important question is, can Zimmerman figure out how to get those thoughts out of his head before the throwing issue derails his career and forces the Nationals into hard choices? Anyone who says they know is guessing. Despite the fragile nature of losing one’s throwing mechanics, I wouldn’t bet against Zimmerman for three reasons.
1. In between his errors, he’s still making some good throws, and not only on the run. Back to spring training, he has looked his worst when he has time. But even on some of those plays, he’s made strong, accurate throwing. Zimmerman’s ability has not disappeared. It just comes and goes. If it’s a matter of confidence and consistency – and not unfixable mechanics – then it stands to reason Zimmerman could regain what he once had on a full-time basis.
“I think it’s a guy that’s adjusting to his mechanics,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “Because he had the surgery, and for a year or so was throwing from different angles to find a place that he didn’t have pain. And I think he’s getting used to the footwork and the shoulder turn and the arm slot and increasing his arm strength. Because every so often … [on Monday], he made one of the longest throws you can possibly make in an infield, from deep third – beautiful, on line and accurate.”
2. He has admitted the problem and already tried to resolve it. As ESPN’s Buster Olney pointed out today on his blog, Chuck Knoblauch withdrew from Yankees teammates, and vice-versa, when he lost his ability to make an accurate throw. Zimmerman’s admission Tuesday night that he asked Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond what they saw from his mechanics seemed stunning. But that he felt comfortable enough to do so is probably a good sign.
3. Zimmerman is the opposite of a mentally weak person. From the time he was a young teenager, he helped care for a mother stricken with multiple sclerosis. He watched as she refused to let the disease change her and as his family supported her. He runs a charity for her now. He understands where baseball fits and what really matters. He has dealt with more difficult things than four errors in six games.