Zimmerman has been diagnosed with an arthritic shoulder, which highly affects his throwing ability. Manager Matt Williams has tinkered with the idea of playing Zimmerman at first base, but the move may have major repercussions on Washington’s lineup.
As we saw last season, Washington struggles to score runs. On paper, it may not seem as though the Nats were too bad at the plate, sitting near or above the league average in almost all offensive categories, but the team had trouble coming up with big hits when they desperately needed them.
In the NL, it’s possible to win without a lot of hitting; look at the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. With Gio Gonzalez (who won his second game Tuesday night after pitching six shutout innings), Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann at the top of the rotation and promising second-year slingers Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan at the back end, there’s no doubt that the Nationals have enough pitching to be the class of the NL.
However, Washington’s shaky hitting could take a step back if Zimmerman can’t play everyday at third base.
Williams has talked about playing Zimmerman at first, where his gimpy shoulder would be less of a problem, but there’s one problem with the move: Adam LaRoche. LaRoche is coming off a down year (he hit just .237 with 20 home runs and 62 RBIs in 2013), but with a salary of $12 million this season, Washington is indebted to LaRoche.
In theory, moving Zimmerman to first base once a week to give his shoulder a night off is great, but the Nats will really miss LaRoche’s bat in the middle of a lineup that already lacks pop. Also, the way that LaRoche has hit the ball in the early season has been a great sign (he went 3-for-3 Tuesday night with an RBI), as the lefty has been a notorious slow starter for his entire career. So, the last thing Williams wants to do is take LaRoche out of his rhythm.
No matter which way you spin it, Zimmerman’s arthritic shoulder is going to cause some problems for the Nationals this year. Whether it occasionally pushes LaRoche out of the lineup or forces Zimmerman into some errant throws at third (or both), Williams will have to deal with this issue for the foreseeable future.
With Anthony Rendon looking ready to break out in his second season, Washington has the potential to flaunt one of the deeper lineups in the NL. Hopefully, Washington can reach its potential in 2014, but Zimmerman’s shoulder is an early-season concern that could put a damper on those expectations.