On June 24, 2012, when Washington Nationals' '05 1st Round pick Ryan Zimmerman decided to take another cortisone shot in his right shoulder in an attempt to lessen the inflammation in the AC joint caused by loose bone chips which eventually had to be removed in an arthroscopic procedure this past October, the then-27-year-old third baseman had a .218/.285/.305 line with 10 doubles and three home runs in 55 games and 242 plate appearances. After receiving the third of four cortisone shots he would need to get through the season, Zimmerman had a .321/.383/.584 line with 26 doubles and 22 HRs in 90 games and 399 plate appearances from late June through October, ending his eighth MLB season with a .282/.346/.478 line at +4.5 fWAR. While the cortisone shot cleared up some the issues the third baseman was having at the plate, he was forced to alter his throwing mechanics and appeared uncomfortable making overhand throws throughout the season.
"Before the shot, it was the hitting," Zimmerman said in a conversation with reporters from Spring Training on Friday, "had no power, no nothing and the shot finally did that." But the third baseman's throwing issues continued. "The frustrating part was I couldn't feel pain," Zimmerman explained, "I just couldn't function like I wanted to. My brain was telling me to do something. Obviously I couldn't do it physically. So, that was the most frustrating part because nothing hurt."
Zimmerman joked that when reporters would ask if his shoulder hurt, he responded honestly that it didn't though he said it probably left them wondering, "'Then why are you so bad?'"
After rehabbing the shoulder all winter, the Nats' third baseman is still not 100%, he admitted today, but he said he was not worried about getting back to full strength. "I'm not worried I'll be back there," Zimmerman said, "But until I am there, I think everyone who's been an athlete or their body is their job, they're not 100% assured until they're not only back [but 100%]." The 28-year-old infielder said he didn't have any reason to believe he wouldn't get back to where he needed to be.
At this point, Zimmerman said he could tell hat he's not as strong as he needs to be, he tired quickly, but he said he was throwing "freer" now than he was last year and felt he was getting back to normal, by which he meant getting back to the, "... natural throwing motion that I've always had." This news pleased Nats' skipper Davey Johnson, who told reporters he was happy to hear his third baseman talk about getting back to a more natural throwing motion. "I looked at some of his films from 2006, and that was impressive. I know that... Zim's a smart guy, and he wants to get back to that natural, fluid motion coming to first. I think that's going to help him a great deal. I'm excited about that. That's the best news I've had this Spring.
The experience of dealing with the injury last season and the recovery process was something that was clearly a cause of some consternation for Zimmerman throughout the Nats' run to a division title and the first postseason appearance by a D.C.-based team since 1933.
"We feel the most comfortable when we're on the baseball field," Zimmerman told reporters, "And to feel uncomfortable is a really bad feeling." The Nats' third baseman laughed, but he said it was not an easy experience for him dealing with the issues which arose from the injury. "It's like I feel when I do public speaking," Zimmerman explained, "But I'm not supposed to feel like that when I'm playing baseball. But when you're trying to just get by in front of 45-50,000 people and not so much that, but when those games obviously mean a lot not just to me, but to everyone else in this room, you don't want to let them down, I think that was the hardest thing."
"It was a mental experience, I guess," Zimmerman said, "I'm a better person for it, but I wouldn't want anyone else to experience it."