NEW YORK — A week or so ago, when asked whether a calf injury had set back his rehabilitation from the oblique injury he suffered in May, Ryan Zimmerman said it hadn’t. He also said everybody had been asking him that. He didn’t know why. The rumor mill had been churning that one out since spring training, but no one could seem to get the story straight.
When a report on FanCred Sports surfaced suggesting otherwise, Zimmerman didn’t change his answer. No, he does not have a calf injury. He has been out with oblique trouble. He doesn’t know where that came from.
But the most important question here is not whether Zimmerman’s calf or side or even his left ear is keeping him out. Whatever the problem, he is healed enough to be starting a rehab assignment Monday — a plan Manager Dave Martinez said was concrete.
The most important question is why, if an oblique injury was complicated by calf trouble, or if his right nostril was really the cause of the trouble all along, would anyone feel a need to lie about it?
The Nationals protest their reputation as an organization that lies about injuries — or, at least, obscures them. But they have earned that reputation, over and over, because of situations like this one.
When asked about Zimmerman’s calf a week or so ago, a member of the Nationals front office said there was no calf trouble in spring training and that some calf trouble was setting him back now.
When asked a week ago if Zimmerman’s trouble was still limited to his oblique, Martinez said it was.
When asked about his health a couple of weeks ago, another person close to Zimmerman said he had been battling the calf trouble in spring training.
When asked directly in response to various rumors floating around, Zimmerman denied both. A week or so later, in the wake of that report Thursday, he did not change his story.
“I don’t know, I don’t have social media so I’m not up into this stuff, but do I have soreness sometimes? Yes, of course. Am I injured? Absolutely not,” Zimmerman said. “Same thing with spring training. Was I injured? Absolutely not. Was I sore? Yes. Did we take it easy? Yeah. Were we smart? Yeah.”
So why, if Zimmerman is insisting he has no calf problem, are so many people convinced he does?
To start, Zimmerman didn’t think his oblique injury would be this bad. Initially, after a weird slide left him in pain on his lower right side, he thought he had more of a back bruise than anything. Eventually, he and the training staff realized the problem was more severe. Oblique injuries are notoriously fickle and necessarily slow-healing. Almost everyone who suffers one ends up missing more time than originally expected. So that Zimmerman has been taking so long to return from that problem is not necessarily grounds for a conspiracy theory. But one emerged anyway.
As Zimmerman continued to postpone a rehab assignment, word trickled down that sprinting was the problem. Zimmerman explained that running was a problem — particularly turning, a movement that required him to use his core to stabilize things. So he shut that down for a while, abandoning running until he was absolutely sure the problem would not return.
“Anything that makes it symptomatic you have to stop, because if you just keep aggravating it, it will never get better,” Zimmerman said. “So at the beginning, yes, running did hurt it. Throwing hurt at the beginning so I couldn’t do any of that, but now recently it’s starting to get better and then just have to build back up. I can’t go from not being able to run for four weeks to right into it, or we’ll be talking about what we were talking about in spring training again.”
Ah, spring training — the soil in which all this calf controversy grew. Zimmerman did not participate in spring training, at least not normally. He took two at-bats in February and felt something he called “soreness” at the time. He, Martinez and General Manager Mike Rizzo insisted he was healthy. They insisted he was hitting on the back fields as a means of self-preservation, not because he was hurt. No one asked Zimmerman about spring training directly Thursday because they did not have to. He brought it up himself, and with it, an acknowledgment of “calf soreness,” but nothing more.
“Like I told you guys I had soreness [in spring training]. I had calf soreness, along with other soreness, and we were safe with it,” Zimmerman said. “I think we did the ultrasound to make sure nothing was hurt, and it wasn’t, so we took our time. Because we took our time, like I’ve told you before, we didn’t have enough time for me to get at-bats, so that was the reason I was going to the back fields.”
But if Zimmerman was well enough to hit, why didn’t he just appear in games — if only just to avoid all the questions about why he wasn’t playing? He had sat out so long, with such doggedness, that some wondered if he was staging a quiet protest against the institution of spring training as a whole. He wasn’t.
“I wasn’t running on the back fields because we had done so much to get me to that point, with only a week left before Opening Day, to put me into a game and say, ‘All right, just take it easy,’ that doesn’t usually work,” Zimmerman said. “If I hit a ball into left-center, if somebody gets a single to right, I’m going try to go first-to-third. So instead of doing that and risking that after all the work we had done to get me ready for Opening Day, we just got the at-bats on the back fields and felt like I was ready to go.”
Zimmerman was, indeed, ready for Opening Day. He hit .217 with a .689 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in his first 115 at-bats before suffering the oblique injury. He has not played since, though he is scheduled to do so Monday. Zimmerman has been running on the field for about a week now and ran the bases during batting practice Thursday. If he had a calf problem, it is not bothering him anymore. If he had a calf problem, why on earth wouldn’t anyone just say so?
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