WASHINGTON -- Ryan Zimmerman walked into Nationals Park on Thursday with a slight limp. He returned to the 10-day injured list Monday because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot, the second stall of his season caused by the injury. This time, he tore his plantar more than the first time earlier in the season. Oddly, this is better. The grander the tear, the less future damage can be done.
For now, he’s stuck back in a recovery routine that has become too familiar. Zimmerman can’t swing, he can’t run and it hurts to walk. The 34-year-old can do certain things in the workout area at Nationals Park he knows so intimately. More than one winter has passed during which Zimmerman left stuff in his locker and would wander over to the park to work out in the offseason. It’s a literal second home for him.
But it’s also the place he is currently stuck. Zimmerman has played more than 100 games just twice since 2014. He was an All-Star in 2017 when he played 144. Sitting at his individual table in Miami for the festivities, Zimmerman said he liked the big media days at such events because he gets left alone. Then he looked to his left at the horde surrounding Bryce Harper. That feels like a long time ago, though it’s been just two years.
Zimmerman is dealing with two things following this latest injury: how to fix it so he can help what he repeatedly called a “fun” team when talking to NBC Sports Washington. And, how it will impact his future, which he hopes is in Washington and understands will come at a steep decline in pay.
First, this season. Zimmerman does not want to have surgery. An option once the plantar is close to fully torn is to have the remainder removed by a surgeon. That relieves the pain. It also means the patient’s foot is cut open. The procedure cannot be done arthroscopically. Which means he has to wait. He missed 53 games last time.
“Oddly enough, the three or four days before that was kind of the best I was feeling,” Zimmerman told NBC Sports Washington. “I was moving around more. They said that’s usually how it happens. You’ll start to feel better and kind of not guard against anything, put enough stress on it. Hopefully once the swelling and the pain gets out of there -- you can’t really hurt it anymore. Technically, I guess I could tear the rest of it. That’s not a bad thing. You wait for it to calm down and go from there."
“I think with these things, you just never know. They say since I tore a significant amount, a lot of people do this, a couple weeks, oh, it feels great. I mean that’s some people, some people are probably different, so we’ll see. I think the most frustrating part is the rest of my body, I feel great. This year has been the best I’ve felt as far as the rest of … the whole system. That’s the most frustrating part. Just got to stay positive and keep working. Whenever I can get healthy, it’s just be ready to come back and help. It’s been fun to watch. This is a fun team.”
The wait could be two weeks. It could be two months again. If Zimmerman does make it back to play again this season, he’ll need time to get re-acclimated (though not much in his or the team’s eyes). Only 60 games remain. The window for a return is not large if his injury drags again.
“Yeah, you know, I was talking to my agent on the way in,” Zimmerman said. “You’re upset, you’re frustrated. All of us want to play. Especially with this group of guys, this team, and how fun this year is. It’s tough not to be out there. That’s what we love to do. But, also, there’s no reason for me to sit here and -- for lack of better words -- bitch and complain. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for me. I just try to stay as positive as I can and be a positive influence around the guys and help out in other ways if I can and do the best that I can to get back as quick as I can and hopefully help this team the last couple months.”
Next year is part of this year’s equation. The team holds an $18 million option on Zimmerman from his last big contract, a six-year, $100 million deal. The 2020 club option also includes a $2 million buyout. Which means a logical process in the offseason for Zimmerman will start with the team buying him out, then trying to find a path in negotiations. Both sides have repeatedly said they would prefer to work something out. Zimmerman reiterated that Thursday, just about negotiating against himself in public with his comments.
“I think right now, I only think about this season and trying to get back and do what I can to help,” Zimmerman said. “Moving forward, I’ve played 14 years, we’ve talked about this before, I definitely have a desire to play and I think I can play. Still hitting the ball well, all my advanced metrics are really good [laughs]. Still hit the ball hard. So I still think I can be a very productive player in this league."
“I’m not going to ask for a multi-year, crazy deal. Money doesn’t matter to me anymore. I just want to keep playing baseball. Does this affect next year? Of course. I need to get healthy and come back this year and play well to show them I can play.
"But as far as like contract stuff, I’ll play on a one-year deal for I don’t know [how much]. I’m not going to play for free because I’m not going to miss my family. If I didn’t have a family, I’d play for free. But I think the amount of sacrifice and time away from home, there needs to be obviously some incentive to play other than just loving baseball.
"But, yeah, a one-year deal -- I’ll go one year every year, I don’t think it really matters. At this point of my career, I’m not going to play 140 games anyway. If I give some flexibility moneywise and you go sign that guy back again, Matty Adams, have us kind of work together. I think that’s how a lot of teams are doing it at some positions. So, yeah, I think there’s options and we’ve always had a good relationship with Mark [Lerner] and Ted [Lerner] and Mike [Rizzo]. That’s the least of my worries right now.”
With that, he concocted his pre-workout drink then went to grab food, shuffling along in shower shoes. Zimmerman’s burgeoning familiarity with this wait-and-recover process has him irritated. He’s trying to keep that feeling shoved down and do the only things he can between now and a return: workout, watch and clap.
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