WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Ryan Zimmerman understands his approach to this year's Spring Training is unorthodox. He has only played in one Grapefruit League game, where he has taken a grand total of two at-bats. But Zimmerman is not injured. He is not nursing any lingering soreness. He understands
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Ryan Zimmerman understands his approach to this year's Spring Training is unorthodox. He has only played in one Grapefruit League game, where he has taken a grand total of two at-bats. But Zimmerman is not injured. He is not nursing any lingering soreness. He understands the concern -- even some of his teammates have asked whether he is healthy -- but he said he feels 100 percent.
Instead, Zimmerman has spent the majority of his spring playing in Minor League games on the backfields in West Palm Beach. He believes he has had as many -- if not more -- at-bats this way than he would playing regularly in big league games and against similar competition. And with Opening Day approaching in nine days, Zimmerman is comfortable with his preparation.
"If the season were to start today and this [preparation] is what I had, there's not a doubt in my mind that I'm ready to go," Zimmerman said Tuesday afternoon.
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The Nationals had not planned this sort of odd schedule for Zimmerman when he arrived at camp. But early in spring he had some initial soreness, the same kind most players, especially veterans, experience. So Zimmerman and manager Dave Martinez outlined a strategy to ease Zimmerman into games on the backfields. Once he started playing there, he realized how much he enjoyed it.
Zimmerman, 33, has battled a plethora of injuries in recent years that limited him to an average of 90 games from 2014-16. But he was finally healthy in '17 and enjoyed his most productive season in five years. The Nationals believe last year was proof that Zimmerman's skills have not declined and keeping him on the field and healthy is the key to his production.
"I'm always dealing with nagging stuff," he said. "[Martinez] was like, 'Hey man, if you think you're going to be ready, I'm not going to sit here and tell you how you need to get ready.'"
Minor League games feature a more controlled environment for Zimmerman, so he can get as many at-bats as he wants on a given day. A few days ago, he got eight at-bats during a single game. He works with first-base coach Tim Bogar to consistently take grounders and has been present during team workouts every day. Zimmerman estimated he has played the equivalent of about six or seven innings at most on the Minor League fields, which is roughly the same amount Nationals regulars are playing in Grapefruit League games these days.
And, even though Zimmerman believes he is able to replicate the same action on the backfields as he would in big league games, he will still likely play in some Grapefruit League contests before the Nationals break camp Sunday. Martinez said Zimmerman is likely to get into a game at some point this weekend.
Until then, Zimmerman is comfortable getting prepared for the season this way.
"Some people might think I'm crazy for doing this and I respect that, too," Zimmerman said. "But at the end of the day, it's me that has to go out and play. And if I feel good, I feel good."
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.