Zim happy with normal offseason, excited for 2014
Nationals third baseman, Ripken talk baseball at Hall of Famer's charity event
WASHINGTON -- It's been a normal offseason of preparation thus far for Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, a welcome relief for a player who spent last winter rehabbing his surgically repaired right shoulder. Speaking at Cal Ripken's charity event on Wednesday night, Zimmerman said the shoulder is no longer giving him trouble and that Nats general manager Mike Rizzo does not want to shift him away from the hot corner.
That was one of several topics Zimmerman and Ripken touched on during a news conference at the Four Seasons Hotel, which was hosting a fundraiser for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation.
"It's actually the first offseason in a while where I haven't had to do anything, which is kind of nice," Zimmerman said. "I can just do what I usually do, work out how I've always worked out and just get ready for [Spring Training] in the second week of February. So it's been a nice offseason, actually."
Zimmerman's slow-to-heal shoulder caused him some well-documented problems with his throws, which accounted for most of his 21 errors last season. Those issues created rumblings about whether the Nationals would have to move Zimmerman to first base, despite the fact that he's signed to a contract that will pay him $88 million through 2019.
That talk slowed as Zimmerman grew visibly more comfortable late in the season, finishing on a 21-game errorless streak and feeling as though he had "got over that hump."
"Like I said all along, if someone's better than me, I'll move," Zimmerman said. "It was a tough year. It was frustrating. It was the first time ever on a baseball field where I felt uncomfortable. I think the hardest part was not the physical part, but the mental part of going out there and having to go through that and sort of beat it, I guess. I think once I got over that, my confidence grew a little bit. Because nobody wants to make mistakes, nobody wants to make errors, and nobody wants to let down their teammates. But it was part of a process that I think will make me better in the long run. As of now, I feel like I should be good to go."
Zimmerman also praised Rizzo and former manager Davey Johnson for continuing to show confidence in him through those struggles.
"They've been supportive the whole time, and Mike wants me to stay at third with what they've invested in me, obviously," Zimmerman said. "I think he knows I'm working as hard as I can to stay there."
Zimmerman is optimistic about the upcoming season not only because of his health but also the way the Nats' roster is shaping up in the wake of Monday's trade with the Tigers that netted starting pitcher Doug Fister.
"With where we're at now as an organization, I think we're ready to win now, and to win in this league and go deep in the playoffs, you have to have pitching," said Zimmerman, who likes the depth of a rotation that also features Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann.
"Like they say, you never have too much pitching, and defense wins, so we're shaping up to be a good team, and we'll go from there."
Zimmerman and Ripken -- whom Zimmerman said he "idolized" growing up -- also spoke of new Nationals manager Matt Williams, who replaced the retired Johnson shortly after season's end. Zimmerman said the two have talked and texted a bit, but he is looking forward to getting to know Williams better when he comes to Washington later this week.
Zimmerman said the pair's first interactions came on the field, when Williams was serving as the D-backs' third-base coach.
"He wasn't too talkative as a third-base coach, which I kind of like, I think," Zimmerman said. "With Matt, you could tell he was focused. The guys that I've talked to that have talked with him, obviously the type of player he was, I'm pretty excited to kind of sit down and see what his plans are, and excited about the year to come."
Ripken, whose name came up as a candidate for the job, also had good things to say about his former third-base colleague.
"Good man, good baseball guy, good thinker," Ripken said. "So I assume he's going to do really well. It's a great ballclub to come in and manage. I would predict he does well."
Ripken acknowledged that he is "starting to get an itch to come back" to the game as a manager and called speculation on the subject "flattering." But he also said he is happy doing what he's doing, working with the foundation and as a broadcaster for TBS, among other things.
"But I'd actually look at it, listen to things differently at this point in my life than I would have five years ago, six years ago," Ripken said. "So no, I wasn't [a candidate] in any official capacity, I didn't go through a process at all, so I guess the way you look at it, speculation ran a little rampant."