- The Washington Times - Friday, July 31, 2009

MILWAUKEE | For the Washington Nationals, Friday’s trade deadline doesn’t appear likely to create much of a spark.

All indications are the Nationals won’t make any big deals before the 4 p.m. deadline, preferring not to part with most of their veterans unless they can get an impressive haul of prospects in return.

Reliever Joe Beimel, whose one-year deal expires after this season, remains the most likely candidate to be dealt. A number of teams - the Cubs and Rockies, among others - are potential suitors. The Nationals sent scouts to evaluate Chicago’s farm system last week, but the Cubs acquired left-hander John Grabow from Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Short of a move that might bring back a midlevel prospect or two, the Nationals appear willing to stand pat.

They could likely get a prospect or two for hot-hitting outfielder Josh Willingham, who has commanded interest from the Phillies, Giants and Tigers. Willingham, though, is under club control for two more seasons, which means he fits perfectly into the organization’s plan.

With an attack that ranks fifth in the National League in batting average and second in on-base percentage, and a supply of young pitchers that could include Stephen Strasburg, the team’s front office believes the Nationals are closer to turning things around than most others think.

That’s why they have kept prices high on such veterans as Willingham and Adam Dunn, according to industry sources. They believe the two players combine with Ryan Zimmerman (and possibly Nick Johnson if he’s re-signed) for a solid middle of the order, and they aren’t planning to part with players under club control next year unless there is an offer they can’t pass up.

Zimmermann recovering

Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, who has been out since July 19 with discomfort in his right elbow, should be ready to return once his 15 days on the disabled list are up, interim manager Jim Riggleman said.

But the Nationals plan to take their time bringing the rookie back to the rotation, wanting him to pitch in September rather than hitting a preset innings limit earlier in the year, Riggleman said.

“I’d kind of like to see him pitch in late September,” Riggleman said. “We may stretch it out a little bit, let him get a couple sessions or simulated games or whatever the case may be. I think we all kind of feel like it’d be nice for him to go from April to October pitching rather than sitting that last two or three weeks.”

Zimmermann said he will throw a bullpen session Saturday and will know after that if he’s 100 percent. The injury cost him a start in Milwaukee, a 2 1/2-hour drive from his hometown of Auburndale, Wis. Zimmermann’s parents and about two dozen friends and family drove down for Tuesday’s game. Several of them have been here all week, wearing the T-shirts they had printed that say “Auburndale Pride” over a curly W on the front and have Zimmermann’s name and number on the back.

“I knew there was a lot of people coming, but it happened, and I’d rather have it cleared up than go pitch and make it worse,” Zimmermann said.

Willingham out

Less than an hour before Thursday’s game, Willingham was scratched from the lineup with stiffness in his neck. The move stirred buzz that Willingham might have been traded, but the Nationals quickly squelched that.

Riggleman said he thought Willingham simply slept on his neck awkwardly, which caused it to stiffen up.