Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman made his second minor league rehab appearance tonight in Class A Potomac, going 2 for 3 and playing seven innings at third base. Manager Jim Riggleman still said it’s “unlikely” that Zimmerman will return to the Nationals before their 11-game road trip ends Sunday in San Diego, but did not rule it out.

“If it’s before we get home, then we’ll certainly welcome that,” Riggleman said. “We don’t want to push it. I really want him to be 100 percent. I don’t want any setbacks.”

When Zimmerman does come back, the Nationals will have some personnel decisions to make. It seems an overwhelming likelihood that utility man Brian Bixler will be sent down to Class AAA Syracuse. The man question will revolve around how the Nationals use Jerry Hairston, Zimmerman’s primary replacement at third base.

At the outset of the season, the Nationals planned on playing Hairston in center field against left-handed starting pitches and Rick Ankiel against right-handers. But Roger Bernadina has become the Nationals’ leadoff hitter, and Riggleman is struggling to get Ankiel at-bats as it is, so it will be a challenge fitting them in the lineup.

“We got to re-think a lot of that, see just where he fits in,” Riggleman said. “Jerry’s done a great job for us. He’ll be kind of used at some different places on the field. He’ll be used in some double-switches, some pinch-hitting and all that stuff.”

Hairston, naturally, understands that Zimmeman’s return means his playing time will decrease and his role will change.

“Well, I don’t think it’s secret — he’s the third baseman here,” Hairston said this weekend. “He’s probably going to be the third baseman the next 10, 15 years. That’s not a secret. He’s an unbelievable player. We definitely need him back. I play everywhere. It doesn’t matter where I play.”

Riggleman said he’ll use the time between now and Zimmerman's return to evaluate the outfielders. He also said he’d like to see Bernadina raise his on-base percentage, whcih is

“We’ll just have to see this next week what it looks like. Is it going to be a platoon out there or not? Certainly, there’s going to be some adjustments for me putting the lineup together and for the players, the way they respond to it.”