Ryan Zimmerman wants to play and help the Nationals as best he can. The Nationals want Zimmerman to play and help them as best he can. At the moment, the best place for him to do that is at third base.
So Zimmerman, dealing with significant pain in his right shoulder that is unlikely to dissipate altogether, is attempting to alter his throwing motion in an attempt to keep himself in the Nationals' lineup at his natural position.
"We're going to try and do whatever it takes to make it feel better, and more importantly, make me be productive," Zimmerman said Tuesday afternoon. "That's the most important thing. I don't want to continue to hurt the team. Obviously, being able to make plays is a big part of the game. It's going to help us win games, which is the ultimate goal. That's the No. 1 priority, is to win. In order to be out there and help them win, I need to make plays."
Zimmerman was not in the Nationals' lineup for their series opener against the Marlins, but he spent time much earlier in the afternoon working on throws from third base, using a more pronounced sidearm motion than he has been using in recent seasons. He reported no issues with his shoulder after going through that workout, and if he's able to do the same Wednesday, there's a good chance he'll be back in the lineup.
"Very realistic," manager Matt Williams said. "If he comes in tomorrow and feels good, I'm going to put him in there. We need him to play third for us. He's a vital piece of this team, middle-of-the-lineup and a fantastic hitter and a fantastic defender. We want him to play every day."
Zimmerman, who has routinely made sidearm throws after charging in to field slow rollers with no issues, will now attempt to use that motion on all throws. He actually used that form earlier in his career, late in 2010 and early in 2011, but scrapped it after tearing an abdominal muscle.
Zimmerman said his shoulder feels considerably better when lowering his arm slot, as opposed to the overhand motion that led to two errors during the season's first week and his eventual benching over the weekend.
"We messed around with it a little today, and it felt a lot better, throwing that way," he said. "I'll take some more groundballs tomorrow like that. The hope is to get into a routine where that becomes normal and effective and kind of go from there."
No matter how he throws the ball, Zimmerman is going to be dealing with a shoulder that is less than 100 percent healthy for some time, perhaps the rest of his career. Williams went so far as to refer to it as "arthritic" during a fan event Monday night, but the rookie manager tried to clarify his words on Tuesday, while also insisting the slugger's condition has not suddenly changed in the last few days.
"Degenerative, as opposed to arthritic," Williams said. "We all know that he's had some issues in there. So the word 'arthritic,' I don't think it should be taken literally, as a result of his MRI or as a result of any changes in his shoulder as of late, or this year as opposed to last year. It's just a question of me saying the wrong word. Degenerative things in there, certainly taken care of with surgery and addressed with rehab and all that. Probably the wrong word, but chalk it up to one of many that I'll probably say."
Zimmerman has been dealing with shoulder pain for several years, and in 2012 took the drastic step of receiving four cortisone shots over the course of the season to help him remain productive and in the lineup straight through the postseason. The 29-year-old said he's not considering similar treatment now, but he stopped short of questioning whether those previous shots might have caused long-term damage.
"I don't like to think about that stuff," he said. "I'd rather not worry about it. The shots have helped me in the past. In the past, it was almost necessary. If there's no pain tomorrow, and it's starting to feel better like it has in the last day or two, then there's really no reason to. You don't just want to get those if you don't have to."
These recent issues have prompted many to question whether Zimmerman, a Gold Glove Award winner in 2009, can ever be a competent, big-league third baseman again, or whether he'll be forced to make a permanent switch across the diamond. Williams suggested Tuesday that he might use Zimmerman at first base — and DH for 10 interleague games — more than originally planned, but his preference remains to keep Zimmerman at third base as much as possible.
"We'll have to continue to just look at it," the manager said. "If he feels fine, he's going to play third. That's what he's done. He's won a Gold Glove over there. We have to keep that in mind. And he's pretty darn good at it. So if he continues to feel fine, then that's where he’ll be. If we have to make adjustments, we'll do that. But at this point, we don't know those yet."