2/16/2014 5:54 P.M. ET
Skole in camp eager to build on return to health
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals infielder Matt Skole arrived at Space Coast Stadium on Sunday and took grounders at first and third base. The left-handed-hitting Skole later took batting practice and left an impression on manager Matt Williams, who went so far as to say that Skole reminded him of former teammate Jim Thome because of the power Skole displayed to the opposite field.
"[Skole] stays on the baseball well," Williams said.
Skole started getting noticed in 2012 while playing for Class A Hagerstown and Class A Advanced Potomac. He hit a combined .291 with 27 home runs and 104 RBIs in 119 games. Skole was named the Nationals' Minor League Player of the Year that season.
"I worked hard this offseason. I have a good program in Atlanta," Skole said. "My agent runs a facility where we get to hit a lot. I've been hitting four or five times every week and working out. I feel like I'm getting back into the groove. I had to learn where my swing was. It's the most time I've ever taken off. I'm working hard, hitting every day and getting more and more comfortable each day as we get closer to the season."
Skole missed most of last season because of Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. He was playing for Double A Harrisburg when he suffered the injury during a first-base collision last April. Skole healed up in time to play in the Instructional League and in the Arizona Fall League, but it took some time to find his swing. He also suffered a right hamstring injury while in the AFL. It didn't help that part of Skole's hamstring helped repair his left elbow.
"When they do the procedure, they actually take the ligament from your hamstring and put it in your elbow," assistant general manager Doug Harris said. "So it's very typical for guys to have leg soreness related to procedure. It's not as noticeable because most of the Tommy John guys are pitchers. The leg factor doesn't play into it. For Matt, playing third, playing first and hitting, the legs are vital in all aspects. He was learning to build his legs."
Ask Skole about the hamstring injury, you would think he was still in pain while talking about it.
"It was just some scar tissue that blew up in my leg and it took six to eight weeks to recover," Skole said. "I really couldn't hurt it anymore, but the pain was going to be significant for the rest of the time I was in the Fall League. I played through that."
Skole is now healthy, but it's not known where he will start the season.
Healthy Zimmerman excited to play for Williams
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman arrived in camp Sunday afternoon and said he is looking forward to playing for new manager Matt Williams.
"I haven't had a chance to meet with him that much," Zimmerman said. "He seems like a really good guy, he was a great player. I think whoever got the job, he was inheriting a great team with a great group of guys. It's going to be a pretty sweet job."
Zimmerman had a solid season in 2013, hitting .279 with 26 home runs and 79 RBIs. He had problems with his surgically repaired right shoulder for most of the season. However, during the final month, Zimmerman looked like the player who won a Gold Glove Award in 2009. Zimmerman will remain at third base for the 2014 season.
"For confidence sake, it was nice to finish the season on a strong note and become a little bit more comfortable over at third base," Zimmerman said. "I'm excited to continue to work, get better and get back to playing the third base that I know I can play and everyone expects me to play."
This past offseason marked the first time in several years that Zimmerman didn't have to rehab his shoulder or have shoulder surgery.
"I could take my month off and start lifting. It was kind of boring. I didn't know what to do with myself --- baseball wise, at least," Zimmerman said. "It was nice. I had nothing to really worry about -- no injuries. Just a full offseason of getting stronger and doing what I use to do."
There is a possibility that Zimmerman may play first base this spring. He said he is not opposed to playing the position once in a while.
"I've always said I will do what is best for the team [as long as it] helps us win games," Zimmerman said. "I'm not opposed to playing a few games over there. I still think I can be the best third baseman on this team --- that gives us the best chance to win every day. We'll see what happens."
Williams praises Strasburg's work on slide step
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg had his first bullpen session in front of Matt Williams on Sunday, and impressed his manager as he worked on his slide step and varied his looks toward home plate.
Strasburg has often said he would like to do a better job at holding runners. Nationals pitchers allowed runners to steal bases over 80 percent of the time last year.
"That's the attention to detail I'm looking for. So he is concerned about it. He wants to improve on it. I think that is a really good thing," Williams said. "The fact that Stephen is taking the initiative for himself and for our team is good. He is taking the bull by the horns and that's good."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.