- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2007

First things first: Ryan Zimmerman is having a good defensive season. Both Zimmerman and the Washington Nationals insist that is the case, citing the 22-year-old third baseman’s ability to make plays few others in the majors can pull off.

But both sides also know Zimmerman could be better, especially if he could cut down on his errors, which entering last night’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies totaled 18, tying him with Florida’s Miguel Cabrera and Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun for the most among big league third basemen.

So that’s why manager Manny Acta and his young star were working on fundamentals yesterday four hours before gametime at RFK Stadium, trying to fix a slight kink in Zimmerman’s mechanics that may have contributed to his high error total.

“He’s terrific,” Acta said. “He’s a great defensive third baseman. But he’s still far from perfect, just like everybody else in here.”

Acta, who doubles as the Nationals’ infield instructor, is trying to get Zimmerman to widen his stance a bit as he prepares to throw, keeping his body less upright. Zimmerman tends to have more trouble on routine plays than on balls that get to him in a hurry.

“When he has time, that’s when he gets a little bit lackadaisical with his feet,” Acta said. “It ends up being too straight up, and the ball just sails away.”

Zimmerman downplayed the whole matter and stressed he routinely works with Acta on defense.

“There’s nothing wrong,” he said. “My feet are fine. Just maybe being a little lower, not standing up so tall. That’s the only thing. My feet are in the right place. My arm is fine.”

McGeary signs

The Nationals struck a last-minute deal with sixth-round pick Jack McGeary shortly before baseball’s midnight deadline, giving the high-school left-hander a $1.8 million signing bonus that nearly matched the amount first-round pick Ross Detwiler received from Washington.

McGeary, a hard-throwing 18-year-old from West Roxbury, Mass., had hoped all along to get first-round money and had threatened to enroll in classes at Stanford if his demands weren’t met. The Nationals, though, felt all along they had a shot to sign him, and once ownership was persuaded yesterday to pay above “slot” for McGeary, the deal was finalized.

McGeary, who went 6-1 with a 0.88 ERA in seven starts as a senior for Roxbury Latin High School, becomes the last of Washington’s top 20 draft picks to sign. He joins fellow left-handers Detwiler (the sixth-overall pick who received $2.15 million) and Josh Smoker (the 31st-overall pick who got $1 million) in agreeing to terms.

“We are very pleased to be able to draft and sign three left-handed starting pitchers … all blessed with first-round talent,” general manager Jim Bowden said.

Extra bases

Detwiler, the organization’s top draft pick, struggled in his second start for Class A Potomac yesterday. The left-hander, selected sixth overall, allowed seven runs (six earned) on eight hits in 22/3 innings during an 8-1 loss to Wilmington. …

Acta said he will consider using a six-man starting rotation in September if some of his younger pitchers begin to tire. Acta will pay close attention to rookie John Lannan, who already has thrown 1462/3 innings this year, surpassing his previous single-season high.

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