JUPITER, Fla. - Matt Williams has just over two weeks left in spring training to make good on his offseason promise to get third baseman Ryan Zimmerman in a game at first base. But Zimmerman hasn’t played since Monday, and has been troubled by right shoulder and general soreness in recent days, minor maladies that have stunted Williams’ plan to increase the infielder’s positional resume in a game situation.
Zimmerman is listed as the designated hitter for today’s game against the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium, and Williams said the plan is to play him at third tomorrow when the Nationals have a pair of split-squad games - at home against Justin Verlander and the Tigers and on the road at Kissimmee against the Astros.
“He went through a little bit of work yesterday with throwing and, certainly, grounders and all that stuff,” Williams said. “We’re progressing him slowly. We need to get him ABs, and make sure. Today’s just the DH spot and tomorrow we expect him to be over at third pending some kind of residual soreness. Tomorrow’s the day he’ll get back on defense.”
So far, he’s appeared in only seven of the Nats’ 17 games, and though he’s hitting .389 with a homer and two RBIs in 18 at-bats, he’s got some catching up to do.
But when will Zimmerman make his long-awaited debut across the diamond in the spot normally occupied by Adam LaRoche?
“We want to do that,” Williams said. “Again, we have to monitor him and make sure. I want him to play third first - no pun intended - and then play first second. ... We want to make sure he’s good (at third) and we’ll try to work him in (at first) as much as we can. If it doesn’t happen, he’s done enough work so far, that even during the regular season, if we get him in a game over there, he’ll be fine.”
Williams hinted that Zimmerman could get some reps at first in a minor league game. But he’s firm in his belief that Zimmerman is more valuable as a regular third baseman than as a fill-in first sacker who’s only manned the position during spring drills.
Clearly, the soreness Zimmerman has battled has been a roadblock, but Williams also realizes that he’s at the point in spring training where even players who spent their offseasons in regimented conditioning programs are dealing with bumps and bruises, aches and pains.
And the work Zimmerman has done at first base during camp has only exacerbated the problem.
“It’s that time of the year,” Williams said. “We’ve done a lot and he’s had big volume. He’s had extra volume, as well, because he’s been working out at first base, too. It’s just residual soreness, nothing to be alarmed at.”
So it’s third first and first second. Got that?
“We’ll see if we can do that a few times in the next few weeks,” Williams promised. “We have to make sure he’s prepared to play third initially. We’ll make it happen.”