VIERA, FL. — A discussion for over 20 minutes about his PED allegations dominated Ryan Zimmerman's first media availability of spring training, but he did also touch on some baseball topics, specifically about his health and how he hopes for better luck staying on the field in 2016.
Zimmerman has developed a reputation for being injury prone, having only played 156 total games in the past two seasons. He is quick to remind you, however, that he was relatively durable before that when he averaged 140 games per season from 2006 through 2013.
"I have been hurt, but for the most part for the majority of my career I feel like I've done a pretty good job of staying on the field," he said. "Obviously, the longer you play the more these things are going to happen. Very rarely to people play for 10 or 15 years and not have something that they have to go through. So, surgeries and rehabs and changing the way you do things, that's just all part of it."
Zimmerman isn't excusing his long absences in each of the past two seasons, but he understands he needs to find a way to stay on the field if the Nationals are going to play to their potential.
"I think the good ones that are lucky enough to play for 10 or 15 years, they learn how to adapt and learn how to do that and continue to perform at a high level. That's part of being an athlete and part of playing at this level. You have to learn and continue to adapt and get better," he explained.
What can Zimmerman change to become more durable? He said "it's nothing crazy."
"It's just transitioning into not lifting as much weights. Body weight stuff. A lot of stretching, a lot of core stuff, a lot of little muscles that I've never used before. Using those to keep me stable. The goal is to eliminate those soft tissue injuries that have plagued me the last two years," he said.
"A lot of time in people's careers you have to transition, you have to change some things up and do whatever you can to stay healthy and stay on the field. The longer you play, the harder that gets."
Changes could also come to how Zimmerman plays, to a certain extent. He has always been an aggressive defensive player, never afraid to put his body on the line to dive for a groundball or line drive.
Zimmerman knows he needs to be careful, but it's not easy for him to change his game.
"You just have to be smart. I'm still going to play that way. That's really the only way I know how to play. You just have to know when not to play that way," he said.
"I don't know if there really is a right answer. It's hard to play first base or third base and when a ball is hit and you think you can get it, to not dive for it. That's just the way we love to play the game. I think if you start trying to take that away from somebody, then you start to do too much. You just have to react... and that's kind of what makes me the player I am."
Zimmerman feels great with spring training now underway and is hopeful his plantar fasciitis from last season will not persist in 2016. And it's one thing for him to be healthy to help the Nats, he understands the importance it holds for his career, as well.
"There's people that want to do what I do. It's my job to continue to get better and make it harder for someone to take my job."
Zimmerman on new faces in Nationals clubhouse
Zimmerman also had an interesting take on the Nationals' new-look roster. Jordan Zimmermann and Denard Span left via free agency and Ian Desmond is still expected to sign elsewhere. They also traded Drew Storen and let Craig Stammen leave to join the Indians. All of those guys were mainstays in recent years for the Nats.
"The core group that we had for the last five or six years, obviously in baseball or any sport now it's hard to keep a group together. I think I can speak for all of us who were a part of that group, or some of us who are still here or some of us who have gone on to other teams, I think we did things for this organization and for baseball in this city that took us to the level that we're at now. Ultimately, we didn't get to the level or win what we wanted to win. But I think what that group did has sort of changed baseball in that city. I think we should all be very proud of that, but at the same time all good things have to end. Sometimes a shakeup honestly might be the best thing. That's what you're seeing now. Certain guys have earned the right to become free agents and are with other teams. I'm happy for them that they got that chance to do that, but I'm also happy that we've got some new faces here. This new group is ready to take on the challenge to take us to that level that we couldn't get to."