"We've had a bunch of guys kind of grow up and mature at the same time," Ryan Zimmerman said, "including myself, and everything just kind of came together." The 28-year-old third baseman was standing on the field in Nationals Park with the rest of the Washington Nationals celebrating along with the several thousand fans who remained in the stands after the Nats clinched the NL East Division title at home in front of the D.C. faithful with an Atlanta Braves' loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on October 1, 2012.
Two days later the '05 1st Round pick would complete his eighth MLB season with a .282/.346/.478 line, 36 doubles, 25 HRs, 57 walks and 116 Ks in 145 games and 641 PAs over which he was worth +4.5 fWAR. Four days after the final game of the 2012 regular season, Ryan Zimmerman played the first postseason game of his career in Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri.
Zimmerman was 8 for 21 with a double and two home runs in five games against the Cardinals in the NLDS and he went 2 for 5 with the one two-base hit of the series and one of his two HRs coming in Game 5. The 2012 season started with an injury which looked like it might derail the Nationals' first 1st Round pick for a second straight year after an abdominal tear which eventually required surgery limited the third baseman to 101 games and 440 PAs in a .289/.355/.443, +2.5 fWAR 2011 campaign. After the injury-shortened season, the Nationals signed the infielder to a 6-year/$100M dollar extension, so it concerned some when Zimmerman's eighth major league season started with an injury later diagnosed as inflammation in the AC joint of his right shoulder which led to a DL stint in late April.
The third baseman returned from the DL in the second week of May, but his struggles at the plate continued. Zimmerman played through the pain, receiving cortisone shots along the way. In the first 55 games and 242 PAs of the season, he posted a .218/.285/.305 line with 10 doubles and three home runs. With the shoulder continuing to cause him issues, Zimmerman had another cortisone shot before the Nationals' June 24th game against the Baltimore Orioles. This one took. Over the course of the next 90 games and 399 PAs, the infielder posted a .321/.383/.584 line with 26 of the 36 doubles and 22 of his 25 HRs coming after he made the decision to have an additional shot so he could stay on the field as Washington made its first serious run at a postseason berth.
As Zimmerman told 106.7 the FAN's Mike Wise in a July interview, having another shot wasn't a tough decision. He wasn't about to sit out with the Nationals in first place in what was shaping up to be a special season.
"If it's something that we need to clean up in the offseason, it's a simple three-to-five weeks," Zimmerman explained, "Which in the offseason is nothing, but when we're in first place and I haven't had a winning season in seven years, three-to-five weeks is like three-to-five years for me to be off the field."
Zimmerman was really enjoying the Nationals' run and he couldn't stand the thought of missing out. "It's been fun," the infielder told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Mr. Wise, "Obviously the first few years, you're in the big leagues and you're so excited to be here that -- nobody wants to lose, losing is never fun whether you're in little league or the big leagues -- but as the season started to shape up and as June came and now we're into July and we're in first place, and you know, in the past four or five years this is the time where we're talking about who we're going to trade away and what we're going to do, so it's exciting to be a part of and it's fun to play meaningful games every single night."
• Listen to Zimmerman's interview with 106.7 the FAN's Mike Wise Here:
Though he said in that July interview that he would hold out as long as he could before having another cortisone shot, Zimmerman did eventually have one in mid-September and after the season ended he had surgery which revealed fraying but no tears of his labrum or rotator cuff, a bone spur on his collar bone and swelling of the AC joint. This past November, Zimmerman told the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore that if the cortisone shot in June hadn't alleviated the pain in his shoulder he would likely have had the surgery then. Luckily for the Nationals that shot worked and turned Zim's season around.
Will the surgically-repaired shoulder result in Zimmerman returning with more natural throwing mechanics than those which he later admitted he adopted to compensate for the issues he was dealing with? Will he be 100% for Spring Training? Will his strength and power be back? The Nats' third baseman and three-hole hitter played through pain to do all he could to help in the team's first postseason run, delaying surgery until after the season was over. Bill James' projections have Zimmerman playing 150 games in 2013, putting up a .287/.359/.486 line with 39 doubles and 25 HRs in 595 PAs. In other words, more of the same from the player who's still the cornerstone of the organization even if Stephen Strasburg or maybe Bryce Harper might be the new face.