The Washington Times - May 4, 2012, 06:42PM

Ryan Zimmerman took 20 swings at about 60-75 percent Friday, hitting off a tee and doing his first batting work since being put on the disabled list last Saturday. Zimmerman was encouraged by the absence of pain during the work but said Saturday, when the Nationals’ third baseman hits balls flipped to him by a coach and gets a chance to hit a moving ball, would be more indicative.

“It felt OK,” Zimmerman said. “It didn’t feel like I felt before, so that’s good. Tomorrow we’ll try and ramp it up a little bit more so that’ll be a true test.”

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For now, it appears Tuesday, when the Nationals open a three-game series in Pittsburgh, is the most likely return date for Zimmerman. He is eligible to come off the disabled list on Sunday and while manager Davey Johnson said there was a “miniscule” chance Zimmerman would be ready then, Zimmerman will need roughly two full live batting practice sessions before he’ll give the go-ahead. 

Zimmerman expressed little regret that, if it was the best thing for him physically, he’d miss out on Sunday Night Baseball against the Phillies. The goal is to get him back and not have to deal with the issue any longer.

“Once I get going, if I take BP for two days, I’ll be ready,” he said. “And I’ve been able to field and throw, so my arm’s fine and my legs are fine. So it’s just a matter of me being able to swing.”

Zimmerman also participated in some significant throwing work, throwing from about 200 feet with hitting coach Rick Eckstein, then working on infield throws and, ultimately, taking regular infield practice during batting practice. He came through all of it without pain.

Zimmerman and Johnson seem to be in agreement that Zimmerman will not require a rehab assignment and any work he needs to do to work himself back into game shape would come through batting practice with the major league team.

“We’re not going to waste those bullets,” Johnson said.

– First baseman Adam LaRoche also tried to take a few swings on Friday, swinging at about 30 percent, and he still felt some of the right oblique soreness that scratched him from Thursday’s game.

The Nationals seem relatively confident, though, that LaRoche’s injury is not extremely severe. Asked if he thought LaRoche might require a disabled list stint, Johnson quickly responded “No.”

He paused before adding: “I’m hoping he wont.”

In his place, you can expect a steady diet of Chad Tracy, a lefty, and Xavier Nady, a righty, at first base. Johnson made it pretty clear on Friday that Tyler Moore, called up on Sunday when Mark DeRosa was forced to the disabled list with an oblique strain, would not be a main candidate to start.

Moore is one of the Nationals’ best offensive prospects but he hasn’t started a game since his debut on Sunday and has pinch hit only once, Tuesday night. Moore has been playing first base primarily in the minor leagues and the Nationals began teaching him left field last fall. He played a handful of games in left in the minor leagues before his call up and made his debut there.

Johnson, though, felt that since LaRoche’s injury appears minor and will only cost him a few days, he’d rather give the at-bats to bench players he expects to be here for the long-term, somewhat implying that Moore’s stay in the major leagues could be abbreviated.

Here’s Johnson’s full explanation:

“The guy over there (Tracy) is the guy I’m playing,” Johnson said. “I like the heck out of Tyler Moore. He can flat out hit. But he’s a rookie and the other guy (LaRoche) is going to be out a few days. This is not the time to be trying to break a young phenom in to a position that the owner’s going to come back real soon.

“I’m going to get the guys that are going to be here and need the at-bats. I mean, I would think long and hard about Nady after Tracy. I mean, as much as I love young talent and I think he’s a good one… it’s not something he’d be used to. It’s not really fair to him. He hasn’t played in five or six days or something. He’s not used to that role.”