VIERA, Fla. - Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark took the hill yesterday, throwing to actual hitters for the first time this spring training. Today brought a chance for the rest of the rotation - Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann - to show its pitches to live Nationals stepping into the batter’s box.
“Gio’s velocity was really good. His curveball was good,” manager Matt Williams said. “Zim was typical Zim in that he just pounded the zone with the exception of the one fastball that Clint Robinson got in the leg, but other than that they were really good.”
“I want to get something out of it,” Zimmermann said. “Just trying to hit my spots with the fastball, throw the breaking balls in there and see where it’s at. It went well for the first time.”
With some actual spring training games starting around the majors, it’s increasingly obvious that these Nationals are growing eager to get past monotonous practices and to Thursday’s exhibition opener.
“I’ve thrown enough bullpens and thrown enough off the mound that I feel like I could go up against a hitter right now and feel confident,” said Zimmermann, who called 200 innings a goal this season.
Still no word from Williams on how he plans to use his pitchers as the spring training schedule gets under way against the Mets at Space Coast Stadium in three days. The Nats will then travel to Orlando to play the Braves on Friday before returning to face the Cardinals in Viera on Saturday.
“We have one question with regard to Day One, so I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag yet,” Williams said.
Ian Desmond took the field with Williams and Nationals defensive coordinator Mark Wiedemaier after practice for extra infield work with Ryan Zimmerman. Williams said Desmond volunteered for the work with Zimmerman while also getting something out of it himself.
“Desi took balls at second base,” Williams said. “That’s a product of us exploring the shift, so he wants to get work there. That’s something you never really work on because he plays shortstop, so that was the purpose of him being at second base today. And then, of course, he was out there to let Zim know where he wanted the feeds to be when Zim comes off the bag and we’re trying to turn two. It’s 100 percent voluntary and he’s happy to do it.”
Williams hit each ground ball while Wiedemaier observed Zimmerman a few feet away, adding critique after each simulated play.
“He looks really good. He looks like he’s taking to it quickly as we all expected,” Desmond said of Zimmerman’s work at first base after the 30-minute session.
Zimmerman, who has only played 18 total innings at first base, said all the fundamental work is valuable.
“It’s nice for me to go over there and work and see how the ball comes from each different guy,” he said.
With just 35 days left until opening day, Williams continues to be impressed by Zimmerman’s transition so far.
“He catches everything,” Williams said of the former Gold Glove third baseman. “I mean, he doesn’t miss a ball. The key is him getting comfortable feeding the ball to second base. We worked a lot on his foot position when he catches a ball from the infield. We worked on some balls in the dirt like we always do. It’s just comfort level for him.
“I’m always impressed by his athleticism and what he can do with his glove. The challenge is going to be him being comfortable over there and the throws to second base because it’s just backwards.”
Zimmerman takes a different approach to spring training based off his own philosophy on preparing for the season at the plate.
“I don’t like getting too many at-bats down here,” he said. “It doesn’t take me many at-bats to get ready and I hate being ready with two weeks left. You want to feel that way with four or five games left, not two weeks. I can go over to the minor league side and play just defense in those games and I’ll probably do more of that than play just games because I don’t really want those extra at-bats.”