The Washington Times - March 15, 2013, 12:40PM

JUPITER, Fla. — Ryan Zimmerman was so encouraged by the way he felt after his throwing session on Thursday afternoon that he told Nationals manager Davey Johnson he might be ready to make his spring debut at third base on Saturday night.

Zimmerman, who has been working to regain strength in his shoulder after offseason shoulder surgery, was originally scheduled to play the field for the first time in March 18.

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But Nationals’ assistant trainer Steve Gober, who’s been the third baseman’s throwing partner throughout the spring, urged Zimmerman to try to move up that timetable because he was so pleased with his progress. 

Whether Zimmerman will definitely get the start at third and play three innings or so against the Houston Astros Saturday night was set to be decided based on how he felt after his morning workout back in Viera. Johnson expected to get word sometime before the first pitch of the Nationals’ game against the Cardinals on Friday.

“He looks great,” Johnson said of Zimmerman, who has returned to a more natural throwing motion this spring and left the herky-jerky motion made necessary in part because of his injury in the past.

“I’m not worried about him at all,” Johnson added. “Still plenty of time (in the spring) and he’s right on schedule.”

Zimmerman has been playing in games as the Nationals’ designated hitter and he’s shown little ill-effects from the shoulder surgery in that regard. In 22 at-bats, Zimmerman is hitting .500. Of his 11 hits, four have been for extra bases (three doubles, one home run) and he’s struck out just four times.

“His timing is great,” Johnson said. “That was what I was most concerned about. I think he’s got 22 at-bats, he needs 28 more, since he likes 50.”

If Zimmerman is able to play the field and start at third base, Johnson said he may forego using the DH altogether and allow Stephen Strasburg, Saturday’s starter, to be the first Nationals pitcher to hit in a game this spring.