As the Washington Nationals continue to get ready for the 2015 season, there are several questions for the team that will go a long way in determining whether or not it can defend its NL East title this season and play deep into October.
Will Yunel Escobar get the job done at second base? How will Max Scherzer adapt to a new team and a new league? Will the bullpen survive without Tyler Clippard? What’s going to happen with all the players who are entering their free agent seasons?
While these are all valid concerns for the Nationals, perhaps the most important storyline to follow this season will be Ryan Zimmerman‘s transition to first base. After almost a decade as the team’s everyday third baseman, an arthritic right shoulder has forced Zimmerman to put an end to his days at the hot corner and slide across the diamond to first base.
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The transition to first will be beneficial for many reasons, both for Zimmerman and for the Nationals. First and foremost, it’ll help him stay healthy. Injuries have been a major issue for Zimmerman in recent years and a move to first base, which is not as physically grueling as third, will hopefully help him spend more time in the lineup and less time on the disabled list. The move will also help the Nationals’ lineup, where Zimmerman’s presence at first will hopefully make up for the absence of Adam LaRoche, who left the team via free agency this winter.
However, a transition to first base won’t be easy for Zimmerman. He’s been a third baseman his entire career and only played five games at first last season, so he’ll have to work extremely hard this spring to get accustomed to his new position. Fortunately, that’s exactly what he’s going to do. According to MLB.com’s Bill Ladson, Zimmerman is expected to practice his skills at first base every morning with Nationals coaches.
"“It’s a process. He is new to the position. He has played it sometimes [last year], but not a lot,” Williams told Ladson. “He did a lot of work last year at the position, but the game reps are not there for him. We are going over the basics of footwork, positioning, his thoughts on where he would like to play, what he can or [cannot] do, what he feels comfortable with. That was a little bit of the introduction this morning.”"
One idea that was floated around this winter was Zimmerman splitting time between first base and the outfield, instead of making a permanent switch to first. While Zimmerman has more experience in the outfield and played a solid 30 games there last season, Ladson says that Zimmerman will not play the outfield and that he is currently focused solely on his transition to first.
Zimmerman’s work at first base will definitely be something to keep an eye on this spring as he continues to get ready for Opening Day. While the transition may be rough at first, the Nationals need his bat in the lineup and the only way for that to happen is for Zimmerman to get acclimated at first base. But given the hard work and success we’ve seen from Zimmerman throughout his career, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be able to step up to this new challenge and succeed as a first baseman.