(John McDonnell / The Washington Post)
(John McDonnell / The Washington Post)


All spring, Ryan Zimmerman has stood out among the third basemen fielding groundballs during the Nationals’ infield routine. The others would corral the ball and fire it across the diamond. Zimmerman would pull the ball out of his glove and toss it aside or lob it to home plate.

That changed today. Zimmerman, rebuilding his throwing mechanics after November shoulder surgery, took another step closer to returning to game action late this afternoon, fielding groundballs during pregame warmups and firing to second for the first time this spring.

Zimmerman has stretched out to 110 feet in his throwing program, so coaches and trainers allowed him to make the throws to second. By the end of the weekend, he plans to be throwing up to 120 feet and throwing across the infield.

“Next few days, I’ll start doing my throwing program and I’ll do it in the infield, just to start getting the vision, using my legs and getting that angle – all that,” Zimmerman said.

The ability for Zimmerman to shed the bad habits caused by his shoulder injuries – AC joint inflammation and fraying in his labrum and rotator cuff – is a major factor for the Nationals. Today, even if it was only pregame practice, Zimmerman looked completely different from last year.

Rather than a herky-jerky motion, Zimmerman snapped the ball smoothly to second base. He was, in the words of one Nationals person, “not fighting his arm slot.”

“Last year, I knew what I was doing. I just couldn’t do it,” Zimmerman said. “I was telling it to do something, but when I tried to do it, I just couldn’t do it. I mean, when you’re going through something like that, you just do everything you can to get through it. You’ve got to throw everything aside. Now, it’s just more natural. It’s back to normal. It’s a lot better. Mentally, it’s a lot better.”

Once Zimmerman gets up to throwing 120 feet, he’ll start throwing to first. He should enter a game soon as a designated hitter, and in roughly a week he may be playing third base in exhibition games.

“I just have to get back to taking groundballs and getting my feet and everything in rhythm to go to first,” Zimmerman said. “Do that for a week or so to make sure it’s strong, then be ready to rock.”