Davey Johnson talked to reporters this morning about the plans for 28-year-old Washington Nationals' third baseman Ryan Zimmerman going forward this Spring as the hot corner infielder works his way back from offseason shoulder surgery to clean up the AC joint in his right shoulder which required cortisone shots last summer for Zimmerman to stay in the lineup. The Nats' '05 1st Round pick has appeared in three games so far in Grapefruit League action, going 3 for 9 with a double thus far, but he's only served as the team's DH in those three games, and according to the Nationals' 70-year-old skipper he won't play the field until the team stops using the designated hitter later this month.
As the Washington Times' Amanda Comak wrote this afternoon after Johnson's pregame press conference, Zimmerman will continue to DH until around March 18th, "... when the Nationals will no longer employ a designated hitter in the majority of their games." According to the Nats' manager, as quoted by the Washington Times' writer, it won't take long for Zimmerman to get comfortable in the field:
"'He’s got great hands,' Johnson said. 'He doesn’t need but a couple games playing in the field. What he needs more than anything is timing at the plate and getting comfortable there.'"
Zimmerman talked about his own recovery in an MLB Network Radio interview with Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette this morning as the Nats prepared to take on the Miami Marlins. "It's coming along," the Nats' infielder said when asked about his recovery, "Obviously it's a lot freer and more natural after the cleanup and things, but we've still got about week or so of strengthening to go and everything feels great, it's just not strong enough yet. And that's just part of the process. You can't, unfortunately, rush that, and you have to kind of go through the step-by-step rehabilitation plan and once we get there we'll be good to go."
As the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore reported three days back, the Nationals' third baseman threw across the diamond for the first time earlier this week and as Zimmerman explained today he'll be back to playing the field soon.
"I've been throwing across the diamond on ground balls for three or four days now," Zimmerman told MLB Network Radio's hosts, "So the more I do that, obviously, the more strength I'll get and it's just a matter of time now until I can get strong enough to go out there and play kind of like a regular day instead of DH every day."
The MLB Network's Mr. Duquette said he saw Zimmerman throwing and thought he looked comfortable making sidearms throws, which the infielder said was "like a second language to him" and his "bread and butter, " something he feels like he'll be able to do, "when I'm 80," but the overhand throw is what caused him problems in the past.
"I think, obviously, last year," Zimmerman said, "with the stuff I went through and things like that, just doing whatever it kind of took to hopefully get it over there, and now to be able to have a more natural motion and be able to repeat it, obviously, that's what I want to do more. I think when you're coming and getting the ball, some plays at third just force you to use that arm motion, but I've done it a couple of times already. It feels good. And it's just a matter of, like I said, unfortunately, you have to take it slow and as much as we all want to get out there and play, you can't rush and it's only going to hurt you if you try to do things too quickly."
As for what he'll be able to do differently, defensively, now that his shoulder has healed, Zimmerman told the MLB Network Radio hosts he can definitely change some things now that he's (almost) 100%. "I can play a little bit deeper now," Zimmerman said, "And don't have to charge everything. Can take a step back, and -- cause I've never had a problem catching the ball, obviously catching is not the big deal -- it's just a matter of getting it over there with the shoulder and things like that, so now, being able to play a little bit deeper, take my time, not have to kind of charge everything, just take it easy and relax, I think, obviously, it's going to be a lot more beneficial for me."
While the shoulder issues last season affected his throwing motion more than his swing, it did force him to alter his approach at the plate. Zimmerman did, after receiving an effective cortisone shot in June, post a .321/.383/.584 line with 26 doubles and 22 HRs in 90 games 399 plate appearances through the end of the year, but he said today that he's even more comfortable at the plate following the surgical procedure and has finally felt more like himself the past few days.
"When you're not strong hitting," Zimmerman explained, "You try [to] generate power other ways and lot of times that means twisting and staying off the ball, not staying through it like you should and when you try [to] do that, that's when things go bad. You pull everything. And when you go to right, you slice everything. And that's kind of how I felt for the first couple weeks and the last three or four days it's finally started to click again. I think I've caught up with missing that month, been able to work out a lot here and having the long Spring Training [has] actually kind of worked out nicely for me. It's good that it happened this year. But everything is starting to come together and the whole plan is to not peak too early. Peak about March 30th, that's what everyone wants."
After conducting the interview, Zimmerman went out and hit his first home run of the Spring according to reports from Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium this afternoon. THE KIDS CALL HIM ZIM!! And now that he's healthy, look out.