Raise your hand if you’re tired of hearing about how Ryan Zimmerman and the Nationals handled his participation in Spring Training last year? Ok, put your hands down. It’s over with, and things will be different this time around. Everyone involved seems to agree on how things will be handled over the next weeks as the 34-year-old, 14-year veteran tries getting through the Spring healthy and ready to go for his 15th major league season.
Last time through the process, Zimmerman took most of his at bats on the back fields, in controlled minor league action, appearing in just one Grapefruit League game.
“[The reason] Zim took most of his at bats on the minor league side and not on the major league side is not because he had an injury that we were not disclosing,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last summer.
“We chose to do Spring Training for Zim in that way because we wanted to control the atmosphere of the way he was participating in Spring Training.
“We wanted to get his at bats to allow him to move around and run as he felt comfortable doing so he wouldn’t injure any part of his body during Spring Training. So that was what that was all about.”
“In Spring I had calf soreness, along with other soreness, and we were safe with it,” the first baseman explained after injury issues cropped up last season and limited him to 85 games and 323 plate appearances overall.
“I think we did the ultrasound to make sure nothing was hurt and it wasn’t, so we took our time, and 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 why I was going to the back fields.”
Coming off an impressive .303/.358/.573, 33 double, 36 home run, 137 wRC+, 3.3 fWAR campaign in 2017, in which he played 144 games and made 576 plate appearances, the veteran first baseman put up a .264/.337/.486 line, 21 doubles, 13 homers, and 118 wRC+ over his 323 PAs in a 1.4 fWAR season in 2018.
Martinez said early this Spring, in one of his first interviews from West Palm Beach, Florida, that he and the Nationals’ 2005 1st Round pick discussed how they would handle his work as he prepares for the 2019 campaign.
“I talked to him and I said we need him to be on the field and play, but with that said, he’s not going to play every day in Spring Training, but the biggest thing for me is to get him out there and get him on the field and playing defense. He hit a lot last year, I think he had over 70 at bats in Spring Training. In that respect, he felt really good, but I told him, I said, ‘I really thought that you need to be on the field, you need to move around, you need to play defense, so we’re going to try to build a plan where we build him up, you know. He might not play that much early, but he’s definitely going to be on the field and play, and like I said, it all depends on his health, and right now he feels pretty good.”
“Things happen and you learn from them,” Zimmerman told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman on Sunday, when he was asked about how things would be different in this year’s preparation.
“I think it wouldn’t be very smart not to look back and try and see why something happened. I don’t think anyone can tell you exactly why it happens, but you have to learn from your mistakes and from what happened and use it toward this year. That’s the plan.”
“We talked about how many at bats that he feels he needs, and he said right around 50, and so we’ll just go by that and we’ll see how that plays out,”Martinez told reporters over the last weekend.
“But the biggest thing for me is lateral movement on defense,” Martinez added. “He just needs to be out there and play defense and move laterally and do all the things that we need him to do to play defense.”
“It’s not so much that you have to play nine innings,” Zimmerman said, via MASN:
“It’s more just playing, rebounding, coming back day after day doing that. Four or five days in a row, even if you only play four or five innings, you still have to go through the whole routine of getting ready to play a game and then going out there for those four or five innings. ... You’re on your feet, getting your legs and your body ready for every pitch. Running to first base when there’s ground balls. Yeah, I think that makes a difference.”
Martinez was asked how he and his staff and trainers can get the most out of Zimmerman.
“By keeping him healthy,” the second-year skipper said matter-of-factly. “We might have to give him days off, day after night. Just keeping an eye on him. I told him, I said the biggest thing with him, he’s really got to be honest with me. We want to keep him on the field. As you know, we’re really good with him on the field. We’re going to monitor him and try to keep him on as much as possible. Does that mean maybe giving him one or two days off a week? Maybe. But we’ll have to play it by ear and see how he feels.”
This Spring, and in the regular season, Martinez needs to keep backup first baseman Matt Adams sharp as well. Adams played 121 games total in 2018, between the Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals, putting up a .239/.309/.477 line, 10 doubles, 21 home runs, and 107 wRC+ over 337 PAs, finishing the year at 0.8 fWAR. He filled in nicely when Zimmerman went on the Disabled List, and after he was traded to the Cards in August, he re-signed on another one-year deal (at $4M) with the Nationals this winter.
“We definitely want to get Matty in the lineup too, and that’s part of it,” Martinez said, “but I really believe, like I said, Zim’s a professional hitter, and when he’s healthy — I know he’s streaky — but he knocks in some big runs for us, so if we can keep him on the field as much as possible it’s going to be better.”