“It was really funny after the second one was okay,” Zimmerman said. “At first, we were just like, ‘Whoa.’ ”
Zimmerman laughed about the story Friday afternoon as he fixed a tuna sandwich in the home clubhouse of Space Coast Stadium. He has not spiked another throw since in his recovery from the operation. His throwing arm now brings him optimism rather than frustration.
In a Nationals camp defined by expectations cranked to nosebleed altitude, Zimmerman, 28, possesses a modest hope. He wants to feel normal again on a baseball diamond, the way he had always felt before last year.
As he played last season through cortisone shots to numb the pain in his right shoulder, Zimmerman’s arm would not move in the way his brain told it to. His throwing motion turned into a Frankenstein monster, a series of movements patched together solely to keep him on the field. He made 12 throwing errors, reduced from a defensive whiz to a question mark.
“We feel most comfortable when we’re on the baseball field,” Zimmerman said. “To feel uncomfortable is a really bad feeling. It’s like I feel when I do public speaking. But I’m not supposed to feel like that when I’m playing baseball.”
Thursday afternoon, Manager Davey Johnson planned to have a talk with Zimmerman. He had watched old film this winter from 2006, Zimmerman’s rookie year, and he wanted Zimmerman, in the wake of offseason shoulder surgery, to return to that throwing motion. He wanted his overhand throws to zip as effortlessly as his submarine darts.
They met in Johnson’s office, and before Johnson could start to speak, Zimmerman told him his plans. He wanted a more natural motion, no more of the awkward, step-by-step mechanics brought on by his balky shoulder joint.
“I said, ‘Hallelujah,’ ” Johnson said. “He wants to get back to that natural, fluid motion coming to first. I’m excited about that. That’s the best news I’ve had this spring.”
Zimmerman’s return to a smoother throwing motion will come slowly, as he uses this spring to build strength in his shoulder. Friday, he stood in a batting cage and made 25 throws from 60 feet and 25 more from 75 feet. He could have thrown from a longer distance, he said, but in mid-February he will prioritize caution.
Johnson envisions Zimmerman appearing in his first Grapefruit League game two weeks into the schedule. Zimmerman is fine with that; he wants 50 at-bats per spring, no more and no fewer. He has yet to take batting practice, instead driving soft flips into a net because his shoulder isn’t ready for the force of a pitch. Caution is his plan. Zimmerman harbors no concern that his shoulder will prevent him from being ready opening day.