Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is entering his eighth full season in the big leagues, and though he is expecting big things for the Nationals -- who are favored to win their second consecutive National League East title -- he is hoping the team can go even further by winning its first World Series title.
MLB.com caught up with Zimmerman recently to hear his take on the Nats and get an update on his right shoulder, which was surgically repaired last offseason.
MLB.com: How is your shoulder, and what have you done since the surgery?
Zimmerman: The shoulder is good. It's coming along. We took it easy, we took it extra slow. I still have to rehab it two to three times a week. I started throwing and hitting two weeks ago. We have plenty of time to get it right. I'm throwing and hitting already. Like I said before, the timetable that we had was the right thing to do. It was correct. Everything seems to be moving in the right direction.
MLB.com: Did you have any anxiety when it came to throwing?
Zimmerman: Not anxiety. I would say relief. I think it was pretty plain to see … that it was uncomfortable. It wasn't natural, is the best way to put it. We were doing everything we could to keep me out there. Sometimes it worked great, sometimes it didn't work so great. That was kind of the battle we went through last year. I think relief is a better word, because it's solved, and now it's just a matter of rehabbing and strengthening it and getting back to regular throwing.
MLB.com: We know how much the injury affected your throwing, but you had a productive season at the plate. Did the shoulder affect your hitting?
Zimmerman: Before I got that cortisone shot in Baltimore, it definitely affected my hitting. Hitting was really the only time where it was painful before the shot. So it affected me a lot more hitting-wise in the beginning. In the end, the continual shots and things like that kind of made it uncomfortable and awkward for me throwing. Before the cortisone shot, obviously my hitting and my offensive statistics were well below my average or what you expect from me. After we got that taken care of, I finished strong and put together a decent year after an awful start.
MLB.com: How excited are you about the Nationals in 2013?
Zimmerman: Obviously, we took a step forward last year, and I don't think anyone was happy how it ended. We are proud of some of the accomplishments that we made last year and what the organization did. That was a fun year. But we need to learn from what we did last year. We are a year older as a team. We are a young team that is still maturing and still learning. And I think that is the scariest part. Last year was just the tip of the iceberg. Everyone on our team expects to be in that position every year. To do that, we have to continue to work hard, get better -- no matter if you are a starting pitcher, come off the bench, a relief guy. Each guy has to take it upon himself to get better each year so we can continue to have that success and enjoy the kind of moment that we had last year.
MLB.com: What lessons did the team learn after losing to the Cardinals in the postseason?
Zimmerman: The postseason is definitely a different game, it's a different atmosphere. It's mental fatigue. You can't really explain it unless you are in the moment. In the postseason, you live pitch-by-pitch. … But the exciting thing for us is, I don't think I'm the only one that thinks we are going to have a lot more opportunities to be in that situation. Hopefully, we can all learn from the mistakes and successes that we had and take the next step this year.
MLB.com: What impresses you about the 2013 Nationals?
Zimmerman: Our lineup is so balanced -- especially after going out and getting a guy like Denard Span to fill that leadoff void that we always had. He gets on base 35 to 40 percent of the time. From there, we have an unlimited amount of options. I haven't even talked to manager Davey Johnson yet about what he is thinking about doing. He could hit Bryce Harper second, you could even hit Ian Desmond second, you could hit Bryce third, you could hit me fourth, you could hit Adam LaRoche fifth. We have so many options with our lineup that it's going to make it hard for opposing teams to match up in the later innings, which is important. The biggest thing, you really don't have a break in our lineup. One through eight is a hard out. Not only can our guys hit singles, if you make some mistakes, opposing teams can be behind, 5-0, with a couple of home runs -- good luck trying to score four or five runs with the kind of pitching that we have.
It's a very complete team. But just because we look good on paper and we did well last year, that doesn't get us anything this year. I'm not too worried about that. The guys on this team don't get caught up in that type of stuff.
MLB.com: You must have been shocked about the signing of Rafael Soriano.
Zimmerman: Yeah. I had no clue, to be honest with you. … Now we are in a spot where free agents want to come here. I think it's a good pickup. Is it tough to have a guy like that come, when people like Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard have done such a good job? Yeah, but that is kind of part of the business. I'm sure when they heard the news, I can't imagine they were happy. I would be kind of disappointed if they were happy. I think at the end of the day, those guys want to win a World Series just as much as the other 23 guys. Hopefully, Soriano will help us do that. I don't think there will be any problems.
MLB.com: You grew up with the Upton brothers. How tough will the Braves be with them on the roster?
Zimmerman: I think it's great for them. Obviously, I've known them and the family for a long, long time. I have nothing but good things to say about Justin, B.J. and their family. They treat me with great respect, and we have great friendships. They have supported me and my career. … Both of them have the ability to be five-tool guys. They bring a different dynamic to that Braves team. Their pitching, their bullpen -- the Braves were neck-and-neck with us last year. You have a team like them and their additions and a team like the Phillies, with their pitching and their guys getting healthy, you can never count out those teams. Everybody forgets about the Mets and the Marlins. It's not easy to go to New York or Miami and win series. So it's a tough division. Obviously, people think it's going to be the Braves and us up top. We worry about every team. The Braves have done a good job addressing their weaknesses. We don't expect anything to be easy.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.