VIERA, Fla. - Watch Ryan Zimmerman warm up his arm in between innings of spring games with throws across the diamond, and it’s clear that his adjusted throwing motion is still a bit of a work in progress.
Some throws skip into the dirt, short-hopping first baseman Adam LaRoche. Some throws are wide, pulling LaRoche off the bag. Two straight warm-up tosses before the bottom of the first inning yesterday yanked LaRoche to the home plate side of first. This has been noticed by some scouts, who have questioned whether Zimmerman is truly comfortable with his throwing and will be able to consistently repeat the same motion and deliver on-target, strong strikes to first when the games matter.
Zimmerman, for what it’s worth, says he feels confident with his throwing motion. He’s finally healthy after offseason surgery to clean out the A/C joint in his right shoulder and says the shoulder is strong, which he believes will lead to positive results. Yesterday, he got to make four throws across the diamond, was accurate with all four, and then started a smooth 5-4-3 double play.
“I feel like I’m right where I need to be,” Zimmerman said. “The whole goal was to be ready April 1, and (Tuesday) was finally a game where I got some ground balls. I’ve been playing for a week. I haven’t really gotten much. So it was nice to get some ground balls and some chances today. But it gets better each day.”
This spring, Zimmerman has set out on a lengthy process of building up arm strength and reworking a throwing motion that had become fairly rigid and, at times, inconsistent the last couple years. Over the last handful of weeks, Zimmerman has been going about trying to rebuild muscle memory with proper mechanics which have him throwing a bit more sidearm than last season’s awkward, over-the-top motion.
The quick, reactionary throws on the run are still something that Zimmerman will need to get used to with game reps, but he feels that will come.
“Physically, it feels good,” Zimmerman said. “It feels strong. It feels back to normal. It feels good to be able to field a ground ball, take your time and do what you’ve always done. That’s the best thing about it.”
Zimmerman, meanwhile, isn’t shy about expressing his desire to get the heck out of Florida. Many Nationals have been down in Viera for more than 45 days, and with 30 Grapefruit League games in the books, they’re tired of playing games that don’t matter.
“Yeah, this is awful,” Zimmerman said. “I mean, I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but it’s pretty hard to get excited to play a game for the seventh week in Melbourne, Fla. We’ve been down here a while. But we have to do it. We have to go out.”
The schedule-makers didn’t really do the Nationals any favors this spring, putting them down for a night game in Kissimmee Monday night, an afternoon game all the way in Jupiter on Tuesday and then split-squad contests on Wednesday. Spring training was already long enough as is with the World Baseball Classic dragging things out.
“All the guys came on this trip and nobody wants to,” Dan Haren said after yesterday’s game. “Our schedule to finish is ridiculous. ... When you first get out there, spring training, the adrenaline and everything is there. And then it just gets lower and lower. It comes to a point where you just want to get your pitch count up, get out of there healthy or get your at-bats.”
This might make Nationals players sound like spoiled millionaires unwilling to put in the work needed to get ready for the season, but that’s not the case. They understand spring training comes with the territory and is necessary to build up strength and timing. The grueling nature of spring, however, takes its toll, and leaves them craving meaningful competition.
“I think it’s the aspect that this really doesn’t count,” reliever Ryan Mattheus said. “It counts for getting your work in, but at the end of the day, whether it’s a zero with striking out the side, or it’s giving up five runs and you don’t get an out, at the end of the day, it’s going to get chalked up to getting your work in. Getting up for that is tough. It’s almost like getting up for a bullpen on the side. But you’ve got to somehow get the juices flowing when the hitter gets in there.”