May 27, 2014, 5:58 PM EDT
Ryan Zimmerman will take a full round of batting practice and field groundballs at third base Wednesday for the first time since fracturing his right thumb April 12, but the injured Nationals slugger continues to work in left field as the Nationals try to prepare themselves for a variety of scenarios moving forward.
After an X-ray Monday showed Zimmerman’s fracture has healed, he took swings in the cage early Tuesday. He’ll now try a full round of BP on the field at Nationals Park, though the club still plans to monitor him closely.
“All indications are that he’s not going to damage his thumb by swinging at bat, but it could be sore,” manager Matt Williams said. “There’s vibration that goes through it. And he’s been out for some time. We worry about his back and taking too many swings all at once, because he just hasn’t been able to do it. He’s been running around doing all that stuff, which is good, but swinging a bat is different.”
There remains no formal timetable for Zimmerman’s return from the 15-day disabled list, on which he has now resided more than six weeks. One issue: He needs to build his arm back up after the extended layoff, in part because of the shoulder condition that has plagued him for years.
Zimmerman has been able to perform conditioning and strengthening exercises on his shoulder during his full DL stint, but as Williams said, “The throwing action is the different one. He’s just going to have to progress into that.”
Though he’s ready to start taking grounders at third base, Zimmerman has continued to work out in left field early before home games. He was back out there Tuesday afternoon, this time working with first base coach Tony Tarasco (who also instructs the Nationals’ outfielders) on technique, something he had not previously done.
Williams’ explanation for Zimmerman’s work in the outfield hasn’t changed much.
“Like I said before, there may be times when he has to do that,” the manager said. “We don’t know. But we’re covering all the bases at this point. We’re going to do grounders tomorrow. And we’ll see how he feels post-throwing today and make sure there’s no soreness there. And he’ll be able to throw some balls to 90 feet tomorrow. So I would imagine there will be some throws to second base tomorrow from third. It’s part of the process. But I can’t he’s not going to play in the outfield. I can’t say that that’s the main plan either. We’re worried about getting him back as quickly as possible without relapse.”
If Zimmerman did play the outfield at any point in a big-league game, the Nationals essentially would be forced to play Danny Espinosa at second base. Given Espinosa’s massive slump at the plate — he ranks last among 183 qualifying major-league hitters this month with a .123 batting average and .179 on-base percentage while striking out an MLB-high 34 times — that may not be a particularly appealing option.
Espinosa was out of the lineup Tuesday for the second time in three days, this time against an opposing right-hander. Williams said the daily decision right now has little to do with batter-pitcher matchups.
“It goes beyond that at this point,” Williams said. “He’s making a change (to his swing). So, during the course of a season, it’s difficult to make a change if you’re in the lineup every day. Because what we want for him is success. And to make that change during the course of a season is difficult, because you revert right back to the game situation. You can’t stand there and think about it while that guy is throwing 95 mph at you. It just won’t work.
“So we want to give him some days where he can just do some work, start to feel it. It’s all muscle memory, of course. So I’m trying to find an opportunity for him, certainly in the game, to help us win. His defense has been fantastic. He adds speed on the bases. He adds a lot to our team. At the same time, try to find him opportunity to work and get things done outside of the game. It’s a hard one. Its’ a tough one to do. But that’s the reason. There’s no matchup reason. It goes well beyond that.”
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