For weeks as he struggled to catch up to fastballs and seen his batting average tumble to depths not before seen during his career, Ryan Zimmerman insisted his right shoulder wasn't a significant issue.
But after Saturday night's 3-1 win over the Orioles, the Nationals third baseman acknowledged for the first time his shoulder was bothering him at the plate and admitted he may need to make another stint on the disabled list to address the problem.
"I've been hitting for a while here in the big leagues, and I don't miss fastballs the way I've been missing fastballs," he said. "So it's frustrating, but I've just got to continue to do my treatment and stuff, and hopefully it will improve and we'll get to that. But if things keep going the way they've been going, we're going to have to do something."
The first step, according to manager Davey Johnson, could be a cortisone shot to alleviate pain in the shoulder. That would sideline Zimmerman for at least a couple of days, but the Nationals could decide he'd be better served taking a full 15 days to recover, perhaps using the upcoming All-Star break to offer him some extra time.
Asked if a DL stint is a possibility, Johnson replied: "There's no question about it. I think possibly even getting another injection in his shoulder. I'm that concerned."
Zimmerman missed 13 games in late-April and early-May with what was termed a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder. At the time, the 27-year-old third baseman said the injury affected only his ability to throw, not swing.
But with only two hits over his last 31 at-bats and a .590 OPS that ranks 157th out of 162 qualifying major-leaguer hitters, Zimmerman now says his shoulder issue is preventing him from generating the bat speed that had allowed him to amass a career .288 batting average and .834 OPS prior to this season.
"I've been working decent counts and getting decent pitches to hit, and I just
foul them back or am a tick late," he said. "And for me, if I'm in a hitter's count and I see a fastball, I usually am not continuously late, pitch after pitch. That's what's so frustrating."
Zimmerman hasn't explicitly told Johnson he's in pain, but the manager didn't have a hard time detecting a problem.
"You can tell by the way he's not getting at balls he normally gets at," Johnson said. "And he's not going to complain about it. He's going to try to go through it."
Whenever he's dealt with nagging injuries in his career, Zimmerman has insisted he would always speak up and take a seat if he felt he was hurting his team more than he was helping it.
How does he know if and when it's time to admit that?
"It's tough," Zimmerman said. "Nobody wants to stop, I guess. That's not the nature of this game. Everyone plays until basically they break, which isn't always the smartest thing, but that's how we've been raised in this game. But I haven't really been helping the team lately, offensively. I feel like I've done some other things to help the team win. It's just frustrating. Obviously we're playing good, we have a good team. And I want really bad to be a part of that."