Ryan Zimmerman said he remains uncertain about his timetable to return from a broken right thumb he suffered five weeks ago, and the Nationals are hopeful results from an X-ray Monday will show the bone has healed and allow him to start a strengthening program.
Manager Matt Williams originally announced the broken thumb would keep Zimmerman out for four-to-six weeks. In reality, it takes four-to-six weeks for a broken bone to heal. Zimmerman will need to regain strength in his hand and rebuild his throwing arm. Nationals officials believe Monday’s test will clear Zimmerman to restart baseball activities.
“It’s all right,” Zimmerman said. “We just have to wait until it’s healed. If it’s healed, I can start doing stuff. If not, I can’t.”
The process for Zimmerman’s return could be complicated by his chronic right shoulder problems. If Zimmerman had broken his left thumb, his program to return would be far less murky. But Zimmerman has not thrown a ball since April 12, the night he slid into second base and broke his right thumb. Having not thrown in more than a month, Zimmerman will start almost from scratch, as if he’s in spring training.
Zimmerman said “it could take a little while” to build up his arm. “Nothing crazy. Just have to see how it feels. Hitting, I don’t need that much time. We’re just going to have to wait and see how the thumb feels when it’s healed, how long it takes for it to get the strength back and all that.”
Williams said he hoped the time off could help clear inflammation in Zimmerman’s shoulder. But the arthritic nature of Zimmerman’s shoulder, which underwent major surgery in November 2012, provides no such simple line.
“I don’t know if my shoulder can really be helped by not throwing,” Zimmerman said. “It’s not like it’s a rotator of a labrum or a muscle. It’s different issues than that. Maybe. Maybe it’ll be a magic five weeks.”
The Nationals, then, still do not know when their franchise third baseman, who had a 1.042 OPS when he went down, will return to the lineup.
“It’s a question of pain tolerance, one,” Williams said. “Continue to look at the X-rays and not go too fast. If we push him, or he pushes himself, too hard and re-fractures it, then it’s eight weeks. So we don’t want to do that. To say a timetable, I don’t know. Once the doctor gives him the okay, he can start all that stuff.”
When Zimmerman comes back, the Nationals will have to decide how to sort out their five infielders. Danny Espinosa has played well at second base, slugging a team-high six homers while playing elite defense. Ian Desmond has scuffled at shortstop while hitting .226, but he’s been a borderline all-star the past two years.
One radical solution surfaced Friday afternoon, only to be shot down. Wearing Jayson Werth’s outfielder’s glove, Zimmerman stationed himself in left field during batting practice and tracked fly balls, both catching fungos and shagging flies. Earlier, he fielded grounders in right field from first base coach Tony Tarasco, who works with outfielders.
It appeared to be the start of an experiment, one with logic behind it: Zimmerman’s throws would require less precision than at third base; it would give the Nationals a power-hitting left fielder until Bryce Harper returns in July; Zimmerman is a good enough athlete to make such a temporary transition; and it would allow Espinosa and Anthony Rendon to stay at second and third base, giving the Nationals their best defensive alignment.
Zimmerman, though, dismissed his action in left as a creative way to get exercise.
“We haven’t talked about that,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a way to break up the monotony of lifting and running bases and doing the same exact thing every single day. It’s just for fun, go out there and run just so I don’t have to run the bases every single day. There’s really only so many things you can do.”
While Zimmerman says there are no current plans for him to play left field in games, it’s something to watch, and it might be an option for the Nationals once he returns.