Ryan Zimmerman fielded grounders in the outfield, made 90-foot throws and hit soft-toss pitches Tuesday afternoon, his most extensive workout since he broke his thumb April 12 coming the day after doctors cleared Zimmerman to throw and swing a bat again.
Zimmerman said his shoulder felt “a little stiff” after he threw without a splint for the first time. Zimmerman said both completely healing his thumb and getting back into baseball shape would be necessary before he returns.
Having already missed 40 games, Zimmerman did not want to estimate when he could return to games, not wanting to put a date out there and then raise concern if he guesses wrong.
Zimmerman’s toughest task may be building back arm strength. His shoulder has been wracked with issues for the last three seasons, and Zimmerman has not thrown the same since he underwent major surgery in November 2012. With his thumb broken, Zimmerman could not throw for six weeks.
“The throwing action is the difficult one,” Manager Matt Williams said. “He’s just going to have to progress into that. Let’s say you take the winter off and you come back to spring training, there’s a process in that, too. So he’s going to have to take it slow at first and build up to where he can just throw 40 balls across the infield and have no problem. You can’t do it right out of the gate, though.”
Zimmerman participated in more outfield drills Tuesday afternoon. At around 2:30 p.m. at Nationals Park, Zimmerman fielded grounders on the outfield grass and caught fly balls, receiving instruction from outfield coach Tony Tarasco. “Just conditioning,” Tarasco said.
Clearly, though, Zimmerman’s continued work is more than conditioning. Internally, the Nationals have been gauging how and how often to use Zimmerman in left field. Publicly, Williams made his clearest statement yet pointing toward Zimmerman’s future use in the outfield.
“There may be times where he has to do that,” Williams said. “We’re covering all the bases at this point. We’re going to do grounders tomorrow. I can’t say he’s not going to play in the outfield. I can’t say that that’s the main plan, either.”
Zimmerman has not previously admitting to the purpose behind his outfield work. Tuesday, he repeated that Nationals officials have not talked to him about a plan for him to play the outfield. But Zimmerman continues to practice there early in the afternoon and during batting practice. The Nationals believe he can do it, and Zimmerman said he would be amenable if (or more appropriately, when) he is asked.
“Like I’ve always said, I’ll do whatever they ask if that’s what’s best for the team,” Zimmerman said. “I know we’re going to be where we need of the year, and if that’s what it takes to get there, I’m just like any of the other 25 guys in there. I’ll do whatever.”
Wednesday afternoon, Williams said, Zimmerman will take infield grounders for the first time. After that, he’ll take early batting practice, his first swings against live pitching. Zimmerman said his swing Tuesday afternoon felt normal, with minimal soreness. He also said his thumb is no more or less at risk of breaking than a typical player.
Williams, like Zimmerman, could not put a timetable on his return.
“He’s been out for some time,” Williams said. “We worry about his back, taking too many swings at once and getting sore doing that. Timetable-wise, schedule-wise, I couldn’t tell you when.”
>>> Gio Gonzalez, on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, played catch from 120 feet during a throwing session Tuesday afternoon. “He stretched it a little harder than he did yesterday,” Williams said. “Same distance, but a little more on it. We’ll just have to see how he reacts to it.” Williams said Gonzalez’s next step will be pitching off a mound in a bullpen session.
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