The 33-year-old finally seems to be moving toward a return. He and his manager indicated a consensus belief that he will be ready to go on a rehab assignment shortly after the Nationals return from their upcoming road trip.
“Obviously, it’s not an exact timetable. That’s what everyone keeps asking — timetable, timetable. You just don’t know with these things,” Zimmerman said. “It’s frustrating. But the good thing is I have been able to keep up with all my strength and throwing and stuff. So whenever it is good to go, it shouldn’t take too long.”
When he first went on the disabled list, retroactive to May 10, he and the Nationals conveyed the belief that his stint would be short. He had some back trouble; the team officially listed it as an oblique injury but it didn’t seem to fit the mold. At first, when Zimmerman fielded a groundball hit by Eric Hosmer in San Diego, pivoted to throw to second and felt something tug in his back, he didn’t think it was a big problem.
Zimmerman has had oblique injuries more toward the front of his side, and those prevented him from hitting. He knew he had to sit with those injuries. But he finished the game with this one, then was able to play for about a week before he realized the problem was not going away. Six weeks later, he has yet to play again, his absence growing more glaring, despite his early-season struggles, as Matt Adams hit the disabled list and Mark Reynolds hit a skid.
Even now, swinging lightly does not cause Zimmerman pain. Throwing doesn’t trouble him, either. Running, however, poses a bigger problem than one might expect. The oblique muscles stabilize runners, not so much as they run straight, but when they turn. Zimmerman’s job, performed correctly, requires a large number of left turns.
“We’re at where we’re at now, we might as well make sure you’re 100 percent. What happens is you come back and oh, you feel it a little bit. Then all of a sudden, I dive for a ball or do something and it’s back,” Zimmerman said. “Then this whole almost two-month process is now a waste of time and you have to start all over again.”
Zimmerman was hitting .217 with a .689 OPS before the injury, struggling to find his rhythm in an early-season slump many outside the Nationals’ clubhouse attributed to his unwillingness to participate in spring training games. For Zimmerman, limiting his spring training playing time meant limiting the risk of fluky injuries like this one, which popped up on an otherwise routine throw to second base.
He will need to risk his health in a few minor league games before returning, though if he does head on a rehab assignment in a week or so, he would probably be on target to return a week later — eight weeks or more after the original injury. He and the Nationals, it seems, are determined to wait as long as it takes.
“I think things are going well. Everything is going like it should be. Unfortunately, obliques, if you rush it — that’s kind of the last thing we want to happen,” Zimmerman said. “They always say with obliques that when you’re ready, take five more days.”
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