Davey Johnson on Ryan Zimmerman possibly moving to first base

brushback_harperOn his way from the field to the field during batting practice Tuesday, Ryan Zimmerman stopped to field a few balls at first. It wasn’t any kind of practice; he was just hanging out with Adam LaRoche.

A few minutes earlier, Manager Davey Johnson had been discussing the possibility of Zimmerman actually one day moving from third base to first. Zimmerman’s throwing after offseason surgery has of course been an issue this season. Johnson still believes Zimmerman will rediscover his old form, but he didn’t rule out the idea of Zimmerman shifting across the diamond.

“I knew it was going to take until June, but obviously it’s taken longer,”  Johnson said. “It’s more about him – if you see him throw early, he throws deeper and throws the ball on line. But I don’t know if it’s physical or mental. Because I see him throw pretty good, and in the game he’ll want to get a lot of air under it. If that doesn’t get better, then obviously it’s not a good spot for him to be in. But at one time, he had a cannon. And we’re all waiting for him to come back and get over it.

“I still think it’s more mental, not just trusting it and cutting loose. I see him getting his work in, and he throws it pretty good. And then you see him having to play real shallow, almost cheat in. It’s not all together there yet, is what I’m saying.”

Zimmerman has made 17 errors, including a league-high 12 throwing errors. For years, Zimmerman, a Gold Glove winner in 2009, ranked as one of the best third baseman in baseball. This season, stunningly, he has a -14.2 UZR, the catch-all defensive metric used by FanGraphs.com. That ranks 24th – dead last – among qualified third basemen.

One reason is that Zimmerman’s range has suffered. Zimmerman has played shallower the past two years than earlier in his career, about two steps behind third base, Johnson said. Johnson believes Zimmerman has been cheating in to give himself a slightly shorter throw to first.

Zimmerman’s throwing has seen improvement this year, but it remains inconsistent as he continues to strengthen his arm in the wake of November’s shoulder surgery. Is it possible, Johnson was asked, that this is simply the player Zimmerman has become?

“I don’t know,” Johnson said. “I thought it would all come together about mid-June. He works hard at it. I think when you have that problem, if you start thinking it through mentally, it’s like, where’s my arm supposed to go? Well, it just goes there naturally. And you just fire it. I think he’ll get it. But it’s been longer than I thought.”

The amount Zimmerman’s arm recovers will have a major impact on the Nationals’ future. Zimmerman remains one of their best hitters even in a what qualifies as a down year for him. But his defensive value at third base was big factor in the $100 million contract he signed before last year. His offense made him elite at third base; it would be barely above average at first.

For that reason, the Nationals will not be eager to move Zimmerman to first anytime soon. There will almost certainly come a time when have to. They just hope it is later rather than sooner.

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FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

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With Ross Ohlendorf out, who could the Nationals use in the rotation?

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 3, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 2: Yunesky Maya allowed two runs, walked none and struck out five over eight innings. Erik Davis earned his 12th save. Tyler Moore, Jhonatan Solano and Josh Johnson each drove in a run.

Reading 4, Harrisburg 3: A.J. Cole struck out 10 and allowed only one run on four hits over seven innings. Richie Mirowski notched the hold but Aaron Barrett flew the save. Ryan Perry took the loss. Jerad Head went 2 for 4 with two RBI. Billy Burns went 2 for 5 with an RBI.

Carolina 5, Potomac 4: Sammy Solis allowed three runs on seven hits over 4 1/3 innings. Rafael Martin completed 1 2/3 scoreless innings and lowered his ERA to 1.29. Michael. Taylor drove in two runs and Adrian Nieto and Caleb Ramsey added runs.

Hagerstown 3, Lakewood 0: Brett Mooneyham tossed 7 1/3 scoreless innings, walked four, struck out seven and allowed only one hit. Pedro Severino went 1 for 3 with two RBI and a triple.

Aberdeen 10, Auburn 9:  Joel Barrientos allowed five runs over 4 2/3 innings while L.J. Hollins allowed one run over 3 1/3 innings. Jake Joyce coughed up four runs, three earned, over the final two innings. Bryan Lippincott, James Yezzo and Matt Reistetter each drove in two runs.

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