As Manager Matt Williams backpedaled from labeling third baseman Ryan Zimmerman’s battered right shoulder “arthritic,” Zimmerman said he hopes to return to the Nationals lineup Wednesday night, even as he admitted to concessions he will make to both his throwing routine and his throwing motion.
Zimmerman’s pivotal, unsightly throwing error Saturday night prompted an MRI that revealed inflammation but no structural damage. Zimmerman did not play the field Sunday and rested during Monday’s off day. Zimmerman ingested anti-inflammatory medication but did not receive a cortisone injection, he said. Tuesday afternoon, Zimmerman fielded grounders and fired throws across the diamond.
“It went good,” Zimmerman said. “We’ll see how I feel” Wednesday, Zimmerman said. “If everything feels good in the morning, we’ll plan on playing [Wednesday] night.”
Williams said it is “very realistic” that Zimmerman will start at third base Wednesday.
“If he comes in tomorrow and feels good, I’m going to put him in there,” Williams said. “We need him to play third for us. He’s a vital piece of this team, middle of the lineup and a fantastic hitter and a fantastic defender. We want him to play every day.”
Tuesday afternoon, as Williams and rehab coordinator Steve Gober watched, Zimmerman began the work of changing his throwing mechanics. Even on balls hit straight at him and to his backhand, Zimmerman made sidearm throws to first base. Some veered off course, but the throws zipped with more pace than his awkward, painful overhand throws.
“We’re going to try and do whatever it takes to make it feel better and more importantly, make me be productive,” Zimmerman said. “That’s the most important thing. I don’t want to continue to hurt the team. … In order to be out there and help them win, I need to make plays. We messed around with it a little today, and it felt a lot better, throwing that way. I’ll take some more groundballs [Wednesday] that. The hope is to get into a routine where that becomes normal and effective and kind of go from there.”
Monday night, at a Q&A event hosted by 106.7 The Fan, Williams inserted another layer into Zimmerman’s shoulder saga, saying Zimmerman has “an arthritic shoulder.” Zimmerman admitted his surgically repaired shoulder has likely deteriorated to that point, but said Sunday’s MRI results revealed nothing doctors had not previously seen inside his shoulder.
“Everyone in this room is arthritic,” Zimmerman said, standing at his locker in the Nationals clubhouse. “Is it probably arthritic? Yeah. Is there some things wrong in there? Probably, yeah. When you play this game for as long as everyone in here has, and you do the same thing as much as we’ve done, I would say that’s all it is. Is it the truth? Probably, yeah. I don’t think it’s like an arthritic shoulder where I need to take medication that you see on those commercials.”
Williams attempted to suppress any alarm his “arthritic” comment caused.
“I think it’s a question of semantics,” Williams said. “Degenerative, as opposed to arthritic. We all know that he’s had some issues in there. So the word arthritic, I don’t think it should be taken literally, as a result of his MRI or as a result of any changes in his shoulder as of late, or this year as opposed to last year. It’s just a question of me saying the wrong word. Degenerative things in there, certainly taken care of with surgery and addressed with rehab and all that.”
Sunday afternoon, Williams suggested Zimmerman would need to decrease his throwing workload. Zimmerman begrudgingly agreed.
“I’m going to have to,” Zimmerman said. “It’s going to be hard for me. My whole career, in professional and going back to college and even before then, I’ve always been a guy who likes to hit a lot, likes to throw a lot, likes to take a lot of groundballs. It makes me feel prepared for the game. Times have changed a little bit now. I’m going to have to adjust. But that’s part of the game. We’re going to have to make adjustments. That’s what we’re going to have to work on.”
Williams reiterated he wants to keep Zimmerman at third base, but also said the Nationals would “have to look at” playing him at first base. Williams also said he planned to make Zimmerman the Nationals’ designated hitter during games in American League parks. While Zimmerman may see time at first base, the Nationals will resist reconfiguring their infield.
“He’s our regular third baseman,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “I saw him throw with this condition before and he’s always overcome it. I saw him throw today and he threw the ball very well. I think when he gets over the soreness, he’ll be back over at third.”