May 19, 2014, 6:12 PM EST
While Ryan Zimmerman waits to be cleared to resume full baseball activities, the Nationals are trying to find ways for their injured third baseman to get some work in without risking any further damage to his healing right thumb.
That has included, for the last several days, significant time spent in left field shagging fly balls and soft grounders.
Which has prompted reasonable speculation that the Nationals are thinking about actually using Zimmerman (who has waged a very public battle with throwing woes at third base) in the outfield once he comes off the disabled list.
Both Zimmerman and manager Matt Williams did their best Monday to shoot down that speculation, insisting the recent left field work has been nothing more than a creative way for the rehabbing slugger to participate in some baseball activities without subjecting his thumb to any significant danger.
“I can’t really take any groundballs during BP,” Zimmerman said. “I can’t throw the ball yet. It’s fun to go out there and get outside and not be sitting around, do something with my teammates.”
Zimmerman was scheduled to undergo his weekly X-ray on his fractured thumb early Monday evening. If that test shows the bone has healed, he’ll be cleared to resume full baseball activities and will begin to take grounders at third base again, make full throws and take batting practice. Until then, he can’t do anything that leaves his thumb vulnerable, including groundballs at third base.
“We have to be very careful with him, because it’s a fracture,” Williams said. “His natural tendency in the infield is to catch the ball with two hands. So in an effort to get him some conditioning, in an effort to have him go side-to-side, I want to keep him off the infield as much as possible. … There’s bad hops coming off the dirt. I lay awake at night thinking about a bad hop hitting him in the thumb and him being out another eight weeks. I don’t want that.”
Zimmerman spent an hour in left field early Monday afternoon, taking flyballs off a coach’s bat alongside Zach Walters and Kevin Frandsen (two natural infielders who have played some left field this season out of necessity) and then remaining out there to shag flies while other players took BP. He received no coaching instruction, took no pointers on proper outfielder technique.
Though Williams wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility of Zimmerman actually playing outfield once he comes off the DL, he did suggest it would only happen in an emergency situation.
“I think he’s a wonderful athlete, and if there’s a pinch during a game where we have nobody left and he’s got to play left field, or right field or center field, he could do it,” Williams said. “That’s where we sit. Once we get the X-ray and everything’s OK, then we can start doing the normal stuff that he does. But until he does, we’re just not going to risk it.”
Zimmerman fractured the thumb diving into second base on an April 12 pickoff in Atlanta. The Nationals said at the time he would be ready to return in four-to-six weeks, but more than five weeks have now passed and he has yet to be cleared to hit or throw.
Even if given the green light by doctors later Monday, it seems Zimmerman will still need multiple weeks to build up his arm strength and get himself back into full baseball shape.
“Hopefully today we’ll get it X-rayed and they say it’s good and we can go from there,” he said. “There’s really no definite timetable. You never know how it’s going to play out. … You get antsy, but there’s no reason to get upset. You can’t really do anything about it.”
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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