Johnson on Zimmerman’s throwing and a possible move to first base

Davey Johnson is going with a new-look lineup tonight, with Bryce Harper leading off, Ryan Zimmerman starting in the two-hole for the first time in his career, Wilson Ramos hitting sixth and Anthony Rendon eighth.

Essentially, Johnson has just gotten rid of a leadoff hitter and moved of his middle-of-the-order hitters up a spot.

What was the rationale for that alignment?

“It’s just something,” Johnson said, smiling and giving a shake of the head. “I don’t know. ... I was just throwing things up against a wall and that’s what stuck.”

Well then.

Johnson said that newly promoted right-hander Tanner Roark will serve as a long reliever for now, similar to the role Ross Ohlendorf occupied before going on the DL. Johnson also confirmed that Roark could also be a candidate to move into the starting rotation when Taylor Jordan is shut down.

Ohlendorf, meanwhile, threw today and “had a good day,” Johnson said. The righty, who is dealing with right shoulder inflammation, will have a bullpen session in the coming days, assuming all goes well as he recovers from today’s throwing, and then will head out on a rehab assignment.

Meanwhile, Johnson got brought into a thought-provoking conversation on Zimmerman today, when a reporter asked whether Zimmerman will eventually need to move across the diamond and end up playing first base.

The timing of the question was a little interesting, seeing as how Zimmerman has only made two throwing errors since July 3, but anyone who has watched Zimmerman consistently this season can tell that when he throws over-the-top, he’s not getting the same force on his throws as he used to. Zimmerman also doesn’t get as much mustard on his over-the-top throws as he does when he throws sidearm.

Zimmerman had arthroscopic surgery this offseason to clean out an arthritic section of bone in the A/C joint in his right shoulder, and Johnson had expected Zimmerman to have fully recovered from that procedure by mid-June. Zimmerman’s throwing has improved in recent months after a slow start that saw him record eight errors in his first 27 games, but Johnson knows that Zimmerman still isn’t where he should be defensively.

“If you see him throw early (before games), he throws deeper and throws the ball on a line,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if it’s physical or mental. I see him throw pretty good, and in the game, he’ll want to get a lot of air under it. If that doesn’t get better, obviously it’s not a good spot for him to be in. At one time, he had a cannon, and we’re all waiting for him to come back and get over it.

“I still think it’s more mental, not just trusting it and cutting loose. I see his work, and he throws the ball pretty good. And then you see him having to play real shallow, almost cheat in. So it’s not altogether there yet, is what I’m saying.”

Johnson seems to think Zimmerman’s current issue at third base isn’t just that his throws have been erratic, but also that he’s playing a couple of steps in towards home plate because he doesn’t fully trust the arm. If Zimmerman plays in bit shallower than an average third baseman, his range and reaction time are cut down, allowing him, in theory, to get to fewer balls.

Zimmerman has said that he feels confident with his throwing motion and his arm strength continues to improve. But Johnson wonders if the issue is more than just mechanics and physically feeling right.

“He works hard at it,” Johnson said. “But again, when you have that problem, if you start thinking it through mentally, it’s like wondering, ‘Where’s my arm supposed to go?’ It just goes there naturally, you just fire it. I think he’ll get it, but it’s been longer than what I thought.

“It all comes up here. It’s the normal reaction when you catch the ball just to throw it. But if you’ve had to think about it, like he had to think about it all last year. He was doing all this stuff.”

Ironically enough, Zimmerman was standing with Adam LaRoche over near the first base bag today during batting practice, rotating in getting some casual ground balls at first while talking with LaRoche. Zimmerman was wearing his normal third baseman’s glove and clearly was just hanging out with LaRoche, but the timing of his trip across the diamond was interesting, given reporters had just been talking about Zimmerman’s defense with Johnson not 20 minutes earlier.

It remains to be seen whether Zimmerman will find himself over at first a lot more in the coming years, but Johnson sure didn’t shut the door to that possibility.

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