By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 12, 2008
PITTSBURGH, June 11 -- Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman will be out of the lineup at least another four to six weeks, General Manager Jim Bowden said Thursday. But if his injured left shoulder fails to respond to an exercise rehabilitation program during that period, he will undergo arthroscopic surgery and be lost for the season.
According to Tim Kremchek, the Cincinnati-based orthopedist who evaluated Zimmerman on Wednesday, there is a 70 percent chance that the slightly torn labrum in his shoulder will heal without surgery. The Nationals should be able to determine Zimmerman's fate by the all-star break, which begins July 14.
"If in fact he's not better at the all-star break, then at that time we'll operate [immediately] so that he's 100 percent for next year," Bowden said. "We will not wait until the season's over to risk going into next year."
Zimmerman, the Nationals' No. 3 hitter, still leads the team in home runs (eight) and RBI (27) despite not playing since May 25. After injuring the shoulder on a headfirst slide into second base May 18, Zimmerman initially tried to play through the pain.
But it worsened, and rest didn't enable a return to the lineup. On June 3, the Nationals placed Zimmerman -- who had played in 205 consecutive games before sitting out May 4 -- on the disabled list, retroactive to May 26.
Only on Wednesday, though, did the team develop a timetable for Zimmerman's return. On Tuesday night, Zimmerman flew to Cincinnati to meet with Kremchek, undergo an MRI exam and receive from a therapist the plan for the rehab program. In the coming weeks, Zimmerman, 23, will attempt to rebuild his shoulder with a routine, escalating in difficulty, of dumbbell and resistance band exercises.
Zimmerman returned to his team's clubhouse before Wednesday's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and spoke with optimism that he can avoid surgery.
"It's a tear, so you've got to make the muscles around it strong and make sure you don't do any further damage," he said. "You get it strong, you get it right, and hopefully everything will be fine. I'm happy with everything they've told me."
"Well, anytime you're not talking about surgery I think it's better," Manager Manny Acta said. "That being said, if at the end of this rehab things don't work out, we'll probably go that route."
Until this week, Zimmerman had rested his shoulder entirely. At this point, he said, the pain is manageable, but he hesitates to return if he cannot swing a bat with the proper strength. Without its regular third baseman, Washington has depended on Kory Casto (recalled from Class AAA Columbus), Aaron Boone and Ronnie Belliard, who just returned from a left calf injury.
Zimmerman, making $465,000 this season, is eligible for arbitration before next season -- a point when many marquee players sign a long-term contract. Missing the remainder of the season could place a hole in Zimmerman's track record, complicating any negotiations for a long-term contract before next year.
This season, he's batted .257 -- though his performance improved markedly after his May 4 day off, a point when he was batting .217.