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Gold Glove in sight for Zimmerman

Gold Glove in sight for Zimmerman

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WASHINGTON -- What kind of year did Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman have with the glove this past season? Strong enough to be considered for the National League Gold Glove Award, which will be announced on Wednesday.

In almost every game, Zimmerman put on a show at the hot corner -- whether it was making a diving play or charging a ball to throw out a runner. Zimmerman could become the first player in Nationals history to win a Gold Glove at any position.

"That would be an award that would mean a lot to me," Zimmerman said. "When I was drafted, I don't think people knew I was going to hit, but they obviously knew I was going to play defense. Defense has been my inroads since I came into the league. It's something I take pride in. I work hard at it. It would be a huge honor to win the Gold Glove."

Zimmerman has the defensive stats to win his first Gold Glove. He led all NL third basemen in assists, total chances, total outs recorded and games started. But talk to MLB Network analyst Barry Larkin and he will say that stats don't tell the whole story.

"The No. 1 thing about Zim is his intelligence," said Larkin, who tutored Zimmerman two years ago when Larkin was a special assistant to then-general manager Jim Bowden. "I think in order to be a good defender, you have to anticipate and know the situation. He can predict from his positioning what's going to happen next -- pull hitter pulling the ball down the third-base line or a guy hitting the ball in the hole.

"You have to be able to move yourself without giving it away to the opposition. I've seen Zim do that. He also puts himself in position to catch the ball with his feet. His feet are great. I call him the best shortstop in the league playing third base. Great feet means the ability to move and keep his balance."

Defense has always been part of Zimmerman's game since he attended Kellam High School in Virginia Beach, Va. By his own admission, Zimmerman didn't think he was much of a hitter back then and decided to make his glove shine on the diamond.

"I was always the youngest guy on the team," Zimmerman recalled. "Early in high school and even in middle school, I wasn't as strong as the other kids. I knew my offense would come later, so my only way to play and really be on the team was play defense.

"I worked hard at it. During my freshman year, I played second base, but [they had a designated hitter hit for me]. I was real young. I was a 14-year-old kid. The only way to play was play good defense. I carried that with me to where I am now."

It was Zimmerman's defense that led the Nationals to select him in the first round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. At the time, people like Bowden and then-scouting director Dana Brown compared Zimmerman to defensive specialists such as Brooks Robinson, Scott Rolen and Mike Schmidt. It's safe to say that Zimmerman hasn't disappointed the Nationals four years later.

"No matter what he is doing at the plate, Zim is locked in on defense," said Nationals right-hander Garrett Mock. "As a pitcher, it's the one thing that is appreciated. You never catch him flat-footed."

Interim manager Jim Riggleman already believes that Zimmerman will be the Gold Glove winner on Wednesday.

"He had a great year. He has great range, great hands. His throwing improved," Riggleman said. "The range over there is so good that he makes all the plays. If we need to get out of an inning -- if it's not a strikeout -- then we say, 'Hit it to Zimmerman.'"

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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