One chance, some jitters and a step forward for Zimmerman

VIERA, Fla. - Ryan Zimmerman’s surgically repaired right shoulder felt so good in recent days that he talked Nationals manager Davey Johnson into pushing up his spring debut at third base by a couple of days.

Instead of playing defense for the first time in Grapefruit League play Monday against the Tigers, Zimmerman did so Saturday night versus the Astros. He needed to make only one play, and handled that chance with relative ease, but it was enough to wipe away a few jitters that accompanied his first time in the field this spring.

“It was good,” he said. “I was a little nervous the first inning, but everything was good. I think the throws in between innings got better. The first inning was a little shaky. Not shaky, but not as good as I’ve been throwing. As the innings went, it got better. It was good to get out there in front of people and get back into a game.”

But the first inning took some getting used to. After the game, Johnson joked that he asked Zimmerman if he needed directions to find third base after the extended layoff.

“I think we all get nervous,” Zimmerman said. “You hold yourself to such a high standard, you want to go out there. You can rehab as much as you want, do things as much as you want, but you always want to be as good as you were before something happened. But I felt good.”

While he hadn’t seen game action until tonight, Zimmerman has been getting plenty of reps to strengthen his shoulder. Even so, he hardly got an opportunity to make the kind of strong, accurate throw that signals recovery.

His only chance came leading off the second, when Carlos Corporan topped a ball, resulting in a slow bouncer to third. Zimmerman charged it, gloved it, transferred the ball to his bare hand and sidearmed a throw that beat him to first base.

When asked whether a different play might have been more of a test, Zimmerman politely brushed aside the notion.

“I think they’re all tests right now, just to get back into it and get experience on every play,” he said. “So the more that I get, whether it’s those or routine, (is good). I feel comfortable doing everything. Now it’s just a matter of getting the experience again of doing it in the game and at game speed.”

Zimmerman will get tomorrow off, sparing him a long ride to Lakeland. But after that, Johnson said, he’ll start pressing his regulars over the final two weeks of camp.

Not that Zimmerman has anything to prove in his manager’s eyes.

“I’ve never been worried about his defensive skills or throwing skills,” Johnson said.

Zimmerman would welcome the increased workload. He doesn’t feel like he needs to make up for lost time, just get his timing in the field down.

“For me now, it’s just a matter of volume and getting arm strength up,” Zimmerman said. “It’s definitely good enough to play in a game, but I still need to build it up just to have the longevity for the whole season.”

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