Shoulder issues have plagued Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman for the last couple years, and it appears they’ve returned. Zimmerman left Washington’s game Saturday with shoulder soreness, and was out of the starting lineup on Sunday after undergoing an MRI.
The results of the test showed no structural damage, meaning Zimmerman will likely avoid a disabled list stint for the time being. But manager Matt Williams let something slip Monday night that hadn’t previously been public knowledge: Zimmerman is actually dealing with arthritis in his shoulder.
From the rookie manager’s appearance on a local radio show:
“Would I like Ryan to play third? Yeah, I would. For a long time? Yes. But the fact of the matter is, Ryan’s got an arthritic shoulder.
It gives him problems, and sometimes it’s tough on him. So we’ve started to do some things at first base with him, where we can give him a break sometimes, in that regard, so he can go play first.
We have to curtail that just a touch to make sure that he feels good. What does that involve? Maybe it doesn’t involve as many throws. Maybe it’s cutting down on the amount of grounders he takes in pregame. I know that he looks to go down, especially when it’s cold, in the cage and throw. Maybe it’s an adjustment to that, too.”
Zimmerman’s shoulder issues go all the way back to the start of 2012, and that’s when the former Gold Glover’s defense started to fall apart. He had arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder that offseason, and came back last season to have the worst defensive season of his career, with most of the issues coming while throwing the ball. Defensive metrics are always shaky, but if you go by UZR, the only third basemen worse than Zimmerman with the glove last year were Miguel Cabrera and David Freese.
Zimmerman started taking reps at first base this spring, and the plan this year was to give him some time there every now and then, if only to get Anthony Rendon into the lineup more often. With the shoulder flaring up already, it looks like the Nats may have to start implementing that plan sooner rather than later.
It’s worth noting that current first baseman Adam LaRoche’s contract is up at the end of this season. Zimmerman is in the middle of a six-year, $100 million extension he signed prior to the 2012 season that was tacked onto the five-year, $45 million deal he was on at the time of the signing. Signed through 2019, the Nats have committed 11 years and $135 million to Zimm in extensions and will pay him $14 million a year until 2019, when he’ll make $18 million in the final year of the contract.
Needless to say, that’s a ton of guaranteed money and years tied up into a shoulder’s already arthritic at age 29.