The Washington Times - April 4, 2013, 03:57PM

There has been a lot of discussion and scrutiny of Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing motion as he continues to gain strength following offseason shoulder surgery.

But there is another, perhaps less obvious, improvement to his defense that has come from having a healthy shoulder: Zimmerman can now play deeper at third base, which allows him to add to his already elite range.

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“The infield has improved because Zim’s healthier,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Thursday. “Because his shoulder’s better, he plays deeper.”

The change is so slight it’d take a trained eye to know to look for it, which Johnson obviously has.

Zimmerman generally plays the position a bit more shallow than many third basemen to begin with, in order to allow himself the ability to still charge swinging bunts and similar balls in the infield.

But feeling more confident in his shoulder — and his footwork — has allowed him to play five or six steps further back and expand his range

“The balls that are smoked, they’re probably going to get by me anyway,” Zimmerman said. “But this lets me keep a lot more balls in front of me.”

Johnson estimated that it’s given the third baseman “maybe another yard of range,” and Zimmerman agreed that it’s definitely a bonus for him.

On Opening Day, Zimmerman made a diving play to his left on a hard bouncer from Placido Polanco with Juan Pierre at third base. The play got the Nationals out of the inning without allowing a run and saved starter Stephen Strasburg from needing to use an untold number of pitches to get that third out. 

That’s one example of what the added depth could help him do.

It’s a small change, but it’s one that could seemingly have a very positive impact on Zimmerman’s defense. His glove has always been considered among the best in the game, and the Nationals feel he is still in the process of gaining strength in his shoulder. 

To that end, Zimmerman will continue to play long toss a few times per week throughout the season.

It will be interesting to see how his throws look in a few months after the continued work on his arm and his footwork, in addition to the possible additions to his range.