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Ryan Zimmerman throws wide last night for his fourth error of the year.
But there's no hiding the fact the Nationals' veteran infielder is battling a serious mental hurdle right now, one affecting his ability to make routine throws with the kind of frequency required of a big-league third baseman.
Zimmerman's fourth-inning error during last night's 8-2 loss to the Marlins was merely the latest, costly example. He's now been charged with four throwing errors over his last five games. And that doesn't include a number of routine throws that were not on target but were close enough for first baseman Adam LaRoche to snag without taking his foot off the bag.
And for the first time last night, Zimmerman publicly acknowledged the mental challenge he's facing, insisting there's nothing physically preventing him from making those throws, most notably his surgically repaired shoulder.
"Nope, shoulder feels great," he said. "That's why it's so frustrating. I was just going into the dugout and talking to some of the guys. Nobody's more frustrated than me. I'm the guy out there that doesn't want to do it more than anyone."
Things reached a point last night where Zimmerman felt the need to approach LaRoche and shortstop Ian Desmond in the Nationals dugout and ask for their advice.
"Rochie obviously has played with me for a while," he said. "He's got the best seat in the house. Just little things. But nobody really sees too much. Desi's played next to me for a long time as well."
Desmond, who made more than his share of errors in the minors and as a rookie in 2010, was taken aback by Zimmerman feeling the need to seek help. And after the game, the young shortstop offered a lengthy, passionate display of support and confidence in his teammate, recognizing the attention this issue is beginning to draw.
"People blowing it up more than it is, that doesn't help anything," Desmond said. "I think if this is going to be the fall of a superstar, you've got it completely wrong. You don't get to the level he's at without overcoming some things along the way. You can talk to him about growing up. He was always a little guy, never hit homers in high school or college, and all of a sudden he figured it out. And now he's a 30-homer, 100-RBI-a-year guy. It's just when you run into those trials, how do you deal with it?
"He's obviously talking to you guys. And I think him coming to us, he knows something's going on. But it's not going to derail his stardom. He's an unbelievable talent, and he's got to remember that. He's got a Gold Glove in his house. He knows how to do it. He needs to get out of his own head, just like we all do. I made 40 errors a year. It's part of the game. You have to go through that stuff. And there's nobody I think would be able to bounce back from it more than he would.
"In a sense, it's a confidence thing. He's never come to me before about how to hit a homer, or how to drive in a runner from second, or how to make a diving play. So I would imagine his confidence is a little down if he's coming to me. I have some things that I see, but I think he's to the point now where it's right there. He's gotten 100 times better. Everything is already moving in the right direction. He makes one and then he makes five good throws. He's moving in the right direction. And obviously having surgery doesn't help anything, having to take time off and rehab and try to find that slot again. But he's on the right track. It's going to take one clean game to get right back to where he was, and he'll be fine. Like I said, this isn't going to be the downfall of a superhero."
Desmond makes a reasonable point, and one that needs to be underscored to those who equate what Zimmerman is going through to some of baseball's most notorious cases of players who lost the ability to make accurate throws: Steve Sax, Chuck Knoblauch, Mackey Sasser. In those cases, the player often couldn't even get the ball out of his hand. And when he did, it came nowhere close to its intended target.
That's not the case for Zimmerman. His throwing motion may not be a thing of beauty, but most of his errors are only slightly off-target, not spiked into the ground or launched into the stands. He makes more good throws than bad ones, and he continues to make some spectacular throws while off-balance.
"That's the frustrating part, too," he said. "I'll have a couple games in a row where I do fine and it feels great, then all of a sudden I just kind of let one go."
Zimmerman also is plagued by his track record as a defensive whiz, a reputation he carried from the day he was drafted and was compared by former general manager Jim Bowden to Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt.
"For so long, I think everyone in D.C. put him on this pedestal and thought he was superhuman. And he is," Desmond said. "But at the same time, everybody has to deal with a little bit of adversity. He's going to bounce back from it. It's early. I guarantee you, by the time the end of the season rolls around, he'll be making all the great plays and everything he's been doing his whole career."
Manager Davey Johnson will continue to give Zimmerman every opportunity to get himself back on track. The rest of the Nationals clubhouse continues to offer him complete support.
The onus now is on Zimmerman to get over this mental hurdle, recognizing there is an issue but not allowing himself to become so consumed with it that it only makes things worse.
"I'm working on it," he said. "I'm doing everything I can to make those plays and help this team. Unfortunately right now, I've made a few errors, but I'll go back out there tomorrow and hope every ball's hit my way and I'll go right back at it."