- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2015

VIERA, Fla. — It might seem strange at first, seeing the face of the franchise standing at a new position after 10 years on the other side of the diamond. But it isn’t strange for Ryan Zimmerman.

“I think it’s weirder for you guys than it is for me,” the Nationals’ new first baseman said Tuesday. “It’s kind of just like a new chapter, I guess.”

As Zimmerman begins making the transition from third base to first this spring, he knows it will take time. He knows there will be some discomfort and new habits to build. Yet he doesn’t view these feelings as negative.

“It’s almost sort of a new challenge,” Zimmerman said. “Something I have to prove myself again, prove that I can play over there.”

Zimmerman took grounders at first base again Tuesday morning, just as he did the day before. He practiced picking short-hop throws from manager Matt Williams, flipping grounders to first base underhand, and spinning to his left to throw to second, as if he was starting a double play.

Zimmerman said he will continue doing extra work every morning until he team’s first full-squad workout Thursday. From that point on, he’ll go through drills with the other first basemen and put in additional practice as needed.

“A lot of it is just being over there and getting some experience, and learning, not so much learning the cutoffs and things like that, but just making that muscle memory and getting used to the responsibilities over there,” Zimmerman said. “Other than that, it’s a pretty self-explanatory position and just got to get some experience and some games in this spring.”

In more than nine years as Washington’s third baseman, Zimmerman had plenty of help. When he reared back and zipped the ball across the infield, he had first basemen on the other end who made him look good, Nick Johnson and Adam LaRoche among them.

Zimmerman watched how those players handled the position, how they moved, how they positioned themselves. As he begins a new chapter of his career there, he will draw from those observations without trying to mimic LaRoche, Johnson and others.

“Everyone’s different,” Zimmerman said. “No one can play every position the same, just like nobody hits the same, and it’s going to be on me to play the position the way I need to play it.”

Zimmerman missed 98 games last season with a broken right thumb and a strained right hamstring. He said he was close to 100 percent healthy late in the season and is healthy now. His goal is to play 150 games this season.

Catcher Wilson Ramos, who has suffered numerous hamstring injuries over the past couple of seasons, has said he will not push himself unnecessarily on the basepaths. He doesn’t want to risk re-injuring his legs. When asked if he would take a similar approach, Zimmerman said he’s not worried about the injury’s lingering effects.

“One hamstring in 10 years, I’m going to take my chances,” he said. “I think that’s the only way — I don’t know if I could play. I’m not knocking Wilson by any means because we need Wilson to catch 125 games and if that’s what he needs to do, that’s what he needs to do. Part of my game is always to try to run out everything, and if I don’t do that, then other guys might not do that. If I’m not healthy [enough] to do that, then I’m not going to play.”

• Tom Schad can be reached at tschad@washingtontimes.com.

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