Jun 2, 2014, 11:35 PM EDT
WOODBRIDGE, Va. — He played a total of 21 innings in left field over the last three days, during which time only a couple of balls were even hit his way. That’ll have to be enough for Ryan Zimmerman, who now expects to rejoin the Nationals for Tuesday’s series opener against the Phillies, make his big-league outfield debut and hopefully not embarrass himself.
“I feel pretty good,” he said Monday night after his final rehab appearance for Class A Potomac. “I had three days down here, (and) I’ve been working the last week or so on it. I think a lot of people get a little bit more work than that, but I feel like I can be adequate and do a good job and do things to help us win. That’s the most important part.”
The combination of Zimmerman’s previous throwing woes, Anthony Rendon’s strong play in his place at third base and Bryce Harper’s prolonged DL stint leaves the Nationals believing they have no choice but to try something different with the $100 million face of their franchise. It may not be a long-term position switch, but for now, Zimmerman figures to spend more time in left field than anywhere else.
Out since April 12 with a fractured right thumb, Zimmerman’s return to the heart of the Nationals’ lineup is, quite frankly, more important to this team right now than his position on the field. This club has struggled to score runs through the season’s first two months, so the infusion of a career .286 hitter who hit .364 in 10 games to open 2014 before suffering the injury surely will inject some life into the lineup.
Zimmerman looked sharp at the plate in his four games with Potomac, going 5-for-14 with a double and three RBI. He produced a pair of singles Monday night, but his more-impressive at-bat came on a third-inning lineout that was scorched to the warning track in right-center field.
The Nationals, though, were never concerned about Zimmerman’s ability to get his swing back after a 7 1/2-week layoff. His primary mission on this rehab assignment was to take a crash course in outfield play. He studied plenty in pregame drills, but unfortunately he didn’t get many opportunities to find out how that practice translated to actual game play.
Zimmerman had only one defensive chance Monday night: a routine, sixth-inning flyball down the left-field line that he caught with ease. He fielded only a handful of balls over the weekend, and he never had to cut loose and attempt to throw out an opposing runner on the bases.
“I wish I could’ve gotten every type of play, but that’s not the way it works,” he said. “I feel like I’m comfortable enough and I’ve done enough work to go out there and hopefully be average. And I think the more I do it, the better I’ll get.”
Does Zimmerman expect opposing teams to test his outfield arm?
“They should run all they want,” he said. “It’s a different throw. I can get my momentum going, I can use my legs a lot more. A lot of the times, unless the ball comes right to me, it’s just going to be getting the ball to the cut-off man and letting him do the job from there. But as far as practicing all the throws I need to make, I’ve practiced those and I’ve made them all. I’m not going to be (Yasiel) Puig or anybody like that, but not too many people are. There’s only a handful of guys who can really throw in the outfield. It’s just going to be my job to make the routine play and do my job that way.”
How much does Zimmerman expect to be in left field moving forward, and does he think he’ll see any time at third base or even first base?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t really talked to Matt (Williams) or Mike (Rizzo) about that. I think Bryce is going to be out for a little while longer. We’ll see what happens when I get up there and see what they say, but I’m ready to play wherever they want me to play.”
So when the Nationals take the field Tuesday night at 7:05 p.m., a familiar face will emerge from the dugout, headed toward his familiar place on the left side of the infield. And, in all likelihood, continue jogging another 150 feet to an entirely unfamiliar position.
What happens then is anybody’s guess.
“The first game here, it was a little different,” Zimmerman said. “But every game that I’ve played — this obviously being the third one out there — it’s gotten a little bit more natural, a little less nervous, if that makes sense. Just like anything, whenever you do something new, it’s a little nervewracking. But I feel like I can go out there and do what I need to do.”
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