The Ryan Zimmerman Outfield Experiment remained an open secret Monday afternoon, one Nationals officials and players acknowledge only in private and in hushed tones. For the fourth consecutive day, Zimmerman wore an outfielder’s glove and participated in drills specifically designed for outfielders. Zimmerman said he was only having fun. Matt Williams said he just wanted to protect Zimmerman’s healing thumb.
Their statements surely contained elements of truth. But as we’ve said before, the Nationals are giving serious thought to playing Zimmerman as an outfielder. They believe he can do it, and that it would be good for him mentally, and that it could give their lineup a boost. They haven’t made a final call on how it would work, but it’s a real thing. They’re just not ready to talk about it publicly, and with Zimmerman still a couple weeks from returning, it’s hard to blame them.
And so, take their comments with that in mind.
“It’s fun to go out there and run around,” Zimmerman said. “I can’t really take groundballs. During BP, I can’t throw the ball. It’s fun to get out there and get outside, not be sitting around, do something and run around and be out there with my teammates. … I’m just out there running around. Keep me from going crazy.”
Williams said that he didn’t want a grounder to take a bad hop and hit Zimmerman’s broken thumb, thereby delaying his return. But he also pointed out that Zimmerman has taken grounders at first, and talked around that.
“We have to be very careful with him, because it’s a fracture,” Williams said. “He has a tendency in the infield to catch the ball with two hands. So, in an effort to get him some conditioning, and in an effort to have him go side-to-side, I want to keep him off the infield as much as possible. It’s one thing for him to take grounders at first, as he did yesterday. But there’s bad hops coming off of dirt. I lie awake at night thinking about a bad hop hitting him in the thumb and him being out eight more weeks. I don’t want that.
“It’s an effort, one, to condition his legs. Two, to try to simulate some of the things he does in the infield, going to his left, going to his right. Turning and running, catching a pop-up – whatever it is – without risk of a bad hop. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish with it.”
Tellingly, Williams also said he could not rule out Zimmerman playing outfield.
“I cannot say that,” Williams said. “But I wouldn’t say the same thing about Kevin Frandsen or Zach Walters, either. I’m not going to say that we’re definitively not considering him. I think he’s a wonderful athlete and if we have a pinch late in a game where we have nobody left and he’s got to play left field, or right field or center field, he could do it. That’s where we sit. Once we get the X-ray and he’s okay, then we can start doing all the normal staff that he does. Until that time, we’re just not going to risk it.”
Zimmerman was scheduled to receive a check-up X-ray about an hour before Monday night’s game against the Reds. The Nationals are hopeful those results will allow Zimmerman to begin a strengthening program for his hand and a throwing program for his arm.
“Hopefully today I’ll get an X-ray, and it’ll say it’s good, and we can kind of go from there,” Zimmerman said. “With anyone that has anything happen, there’s no definite timetable. You never know how it’s going to play out.
“You get antsy, but there’s no reason to get upset. It’s something that happens. For the first five or six years, I never had it happen. The last three years, I feel like it happens all the time. It’s just one of those things. Nothing you can control. It’s not fun, but there’s no really reason to waste your time getting upset or frustrated.”