The Nationals knew Saturday night that they would be without another important bat in the heart of their lineup for at least a month, but on Sunday the team made the move a reality by officially placing third baseman Ryan Zimmerman on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured right thumb. With Zimmerman expected to be out four to six weeks, the Nationals called up infielder Zach Walters from Class AAA Syracuse to boost the bench.
Zimmerman broke his thumb diving back to second base when picked off by starter Alex Wood in the fifth inning of Saturday’s 6-3 loss. At first, Zimmerman thought he only knocked off his nail because it was bleeding and bruised, but soon realized that his entire thumb had bent back on the base.
“It was just a freak accident,” he said. “There’s nothing you can really do. Hopefully we’ll get all this stuff out of the way and everybody will be healthy for the rest of the year.”
Zimmerman, who was wearing a split on his right thumb on Sunday, will be evaluated by a hand specialist in Cleveland on Monday, General Manager Mike Rizzo said. The thumb suffered a clean fracture, he said. Zimmerman said he didn’t believe surgery was an option and considered the hand specialist visit more as a precaution.
In the first year of the six-year, $100 million extension he signed two years ago, Zimmerman was off to a hot start, hitting .364 with two home runs and six RBI. This is the fourth straight April that Zimmerman has landed on the disabled list. Zimmerman was unhappy to be injured again early in the season but was in good spirits on Sunday.
“I probably have more hits this April than I’ve had my whole career,” he said, with a smile. “It’s frustrating to finally get off to a good start. The team was playing well, even with the injuries we’ve already had. To add more injuries, it’s frustrating. But that’s part of the game, part of sports. There’s nothing you can do about it, so no reason to sit here and pout. It’s just something that happens. Hopefully by the end, it will make us stronger.”
The Nationals are expected to use Anthony Rendon at third base and Danny Espinosa at second while Zimmerman recovers. The switch-hitting Walters, who had an impressive spring at the plate and hit 29 home runs last season at Syracuse, was hitting .310 with an .805 OPS through eight games at Syracuse when he was pulled from Saturday’s game to head to Atlanta to join the Nationals. Utility man Kevin Frandsen is also an option to play second or third base.
Walters’ natural position is shortstop, but has played 59 games in the minor leagues at third base and recently played second base at Syracuse. He hadn’t played second base since 2011 in the minors and the Nationals put him there at times during spring training in the event he would need to play there this season. A team spokeswoman said Walters wasn’t available for comment before Sunday’s game.
“He’s got the skill-set to play shortstop,” Rizzo said. “He’s a guy that’s going to play at all the different positions. Being a switch-hitter off the bench with power helps us.”
Only two weeks into the season, the Nationals have endured a rash of injuries to core members of the roster. Center fielder Denard Span was placed on the seven-day disabled list Saturday with a concussion. The Nationals are already without catcher Wilson Ramos (fractured bone in his hand); their prized offseason acquisition, starter Doug Fister (lat strain); and backup outfielder Scott Hairston (oblique).
“We feel as good as we could be with the glut of injuries we’ve had to key players, Rizzo said. “You’re talking about middle-of-the-lineup bats that are out. But we prepared for it this offseason with the acquisition of [Jose] Lobaton and key acquisitions like Frandsen off the bench and Nate McLouth in the outfield. So we feel as good as we can when you lose two middle-of-the-lineup bats as you can be, and we still feel good about the roster.”