Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is the heart and soul of the Nationals. Besides being a consistent hitter, he is one of the best defensive third basemen in the National League, when he is healthy. After finally recovering from shoulder surgery, Zimmerman played the last month of the 2013 season like he was a candidate for the Gold Glove Award.
MLB.com caught up with Zimmerman on Monday to talk about the Nats and the upcoming season.
MLB.com: You entered the league in late 2005. It seems like time went by fast.
Ryan Zimmerman: You don't really think about it. It has gone by pretty quick. It has been a lot of fun. I hope to play five or 10 more years.
MLB.com: When you first came to the Nationals, there were a lot of weird things going on with this team -- a lot of losing going on. How amazing is it that the Nats are now a winning franchise?
Zimmerman: The positive of being bad was having a lot of good Draft picks. This year and last year, they are getting to this level and helping us win games up here, which is fun to see.
MLB.com: When the team was losing badly in 2008 and '09, did you think the team would get better? What was your thinking back then?
Zimmerman: You are always optimistic that things would get better. The system, the Draft are put in place to help teams that are struggling get better -- be able to compete. Even in those years when we were losing, it's playing baseball for a living and having a good time. I learned a lot from those years. I made a lot of good friends and a lot of good teammates. I wouldn't give back those years for anything.
MLB.com: When did you realize things were going to turn around for the team?
Zimmerman: You started to see some the guys that you drafted. You see them in Spring Training, you start to see the talent you have around here getting a little bit better than it was the year before. That's what ultimately leads to the turnaround. It's not a quick process if you do it the right way, and the Nationals have done it the right way here.
MLB.com: Talk about the 2014 Nationals. What do you like about the team?
Zimmerman: It's basically the same team as last year and even two years ago. Obviously, we added some people here and there. We have the same core group of guys we've had the last few years. We grow up and learn even more. Obviously, we get better at what we do. We now have guys like Doug Fister, Nate McLouth and those kinds of guys to give us depth. It's just a good group of guys. We learned a lot from last year. Hopefully, we'll use what we learned from last year and get back to what we were two years ago.
MLB.com: What are your goals for this year?
Zimmerman: They are the same every year. It's continue to get better. That's the best thing about this sport. As soon as you take anything for granted and stop working, somebody is ready to take your job. So until the last day I play, that's the way I'll go about my business -- try to get better each year and try to help the team win. I hope I can do it for a long time.
MLB.com: How's your right shoulder?
Zimmerman: Everything is good. I feel great. I threw the ball well the last couple of days. Now it's about getting in game shape and getting past that first week of soreness. No matter how hard you work out in the offseason, [the soreness] gets you no matter what.
MLB.com: There has been talk about you playing first base. Have you practiced at the position yet?
Zimmerman: I haven't yet. But like we talked about before, if I play over at first 10, 15, 20 times and that helps us win 10 or 15 more games, that what I'm here for. Obviously, if my arm continues to stay like it is and gets better and be as good as it was the last month and a half, I feel I can help this team a lot at third base. [Manager Matt Williams] has ideas do some things maybe against tough lefties. If it helps us win five or 10 more games -- five or 10 more games would have made a difference last year. That's the great thing about this team: we have a bunch of guys that are willing to do whatever it takes to win. I'm no different than those guys.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.