Can Ryan Zimmerman’s Shoulders Hold Up the Washington Nationals in 2013?

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals‘ chances to repeat as NL East champions, and the best team in baseball, may very well ride of Ryan Zimmerman‘s shoulders. Literally.

Yes, Zimmerman is the team’s leader, and one of the premier third-baseman in the game, but for half of 2012, a balky shoulder made him a barely viable major-leaguer at all. He was hitting a dismal .218/.285/.305 right up to the final week of June.

His season badly needed a shot in the arm–and he got one in the form of a cortisone shot to his shoulders that may have rescued what quickly headed towards being a lost season.

After the treatment, the Nats’ third baseman hit a video-game like .366/.434/.752, and salvaged his season with 17 homers in the final half before getting another shot in September and putting up a 1.078 OPS in a losing effort against the St. Louis Cardinals in their five-game playoff series.

This is the game-changer that the Nationals will need to have in 2013, but whether Zimmerman’s shoulders will show up remains to be seen. The 28-year-old is coming off minor arthroscopic surgery to clean up the AC joint on his right elbow, and while he’s reportedly fully healthy in camp, the biggest test will be how he responds to full-time fielding and hitting duties during Spring Training games.

That’s something the Nationals will ease him into because manager Davey Johnson has said that the team will use Zimmerman in the DH spot during Spring games if necessary to make sure he gets his fair share of at-bats.

It won’t help them in the regular season, obviously, but the plan is to make sure Zimmerman can go at each thing 100 percent before putting it all together. The team simply can’t or his shoulder suffering another setback, especially when a cortisone shot–which loses effectiveness each time it’s used in an area–won’t have the same kind of recuperative powers it did in 2012.

Zimmerman has been unable to avoid the DL over the last two years, but after going through surgery to repair a nagging issue, he and the team will be hoping that it won’t happen for a third year in a row.

Sure, it didn’t hurt the team on its way to top in 2012, but 2013 will bring about a much-improved division contender in the Atlanta Braves and the Nationals will want every healthy day they can get from their third baseman.

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