Evan Vucci/AP


Ryan Zimmerman took grounders on Friday morning, making backhanded scoops of balls to his right. Each time after fielding the ball, he stopped, whipped his arm across this body and threw across the diamond with ease, some of the most difficult throws a third baseman makes. This is the final hurdle for Zimmerman to play third base for the first time since offseason shoulder clean-up surgery.

Zimmerman has felt confident and comfortable with his throwing and shoulder strength enough that he could start at third base on Saturday at home against the Houston Astros, two days earlier than planned. If not, he would start Monday at home against the Detroit Tigers, the first chance to test his shoulder in a game. (Sunday is a road game in Lakeland against the Tigers.)

Zimmerman said he is at 90 to 95 percent arm strength, but will talk later Friday with Manager Davey Johnson and see how his shoulder feels Saturday morning.

“I know [rehab coordinator Steve Gober] wanted him to think about playing maybe three innings on Saturday, kind of pushing him, because he liked where he was at,” Johnson said. “And that would be pushing it up two days from my plan. So, I guess I can’t keep calling these guys conservative. They’re being more aggressive than me.”

Johnson isn’t pushing Zimmerman to play third base yet, reasoning that getting at-bats are more important. Zimmerman, who has been playing in games as a designated hitter, likes to get 50 at-bats during the spring and he has 28 so far. But he may play the field as soon as Saturday because he has felt so good.

Zimmerman feels confident in his shoulder and how it has responded. Mentally, he said, he is past the hurdle of the multi-step throwing motion he endured because of bone chips in his shoulder and just flings balls without thinking about his shoulder. He is throwing with ease and the routine throws, where he plants his feet first, are no issue. It’s the non-routine throws, charging the ball or when he ranges far to his left or right and can’t plant his feet, that are still a work in progress.

“We’ll find out,” he said. “You can’t really replicate those. That’s sorta why you gotta get into the game and kinda have it go and it see how it goes. I’ve done everything that they kinda wanted me to do. And just gotta take the next step.”

Monday is also the deadline for when teams can use the designated hitter in the Grapefruit League, unless otherwise specified. If Zimmerman plays Saturday, it’ll mean Stephen Strasburg, a capable hitting pitcher, will also hit. Nationals pitchers haven’t hit in games yet, unlike some other Grapefruit League teams.

“All the guys want to get in there,” Johnson said. “We’re at the point where I don’t mind letting them hit. It’s been good for letting the catchers get some at-bats, but we’re at the point now where we’re starting to look like a National League club and letting the pitchers hit. My main thing was getting [Zimmerman] enough at-bats. We’re at the point where we can take the wraps off of him.”