Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman will have surgery Tuesday morning in Philadelphia to repair a torn rectus muscle in his abdomen, the team announced Saturday. Zimmerman will then go through a six-week rehabilitation process before he could be back on the field for Washington.
The injury, which began as an abdominal strain in spring training but escalated when the third baseman slid head-first into second base on April 9 in New York, is a big blow to a team and an offense that has been struggling to get by without its best hitter in the lineup for the past three weeks.
"We went through a couple weeks trying to get it better, and that's frustrating," Zimmerman said. "But it's nice to have, I guess, closure. Get it fixed, get it working and come back, help this team play well like they have been."
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said "if all goes well," Zimmerman could return to the team six weeks after surgery. That would put his return on June 14, a night the Nationals are at home against the St. Louis Cardinals. He would have missed 59 games of the season by that point.
"We see one of the best hitters in baseball that's not going to be able to play for us for six weeks," Rizzo said when asked where the team, which has struggled to score runs without him, goes from here without Zimmerman in the lineup for what will be at least a third of the season.
"Obviously when you take your best hitter out of the lineup, you're going to have to find different ways to score runs. Nobody's going to feel sorry for us ... we're going to continue to play without Ryan. He's a huge part of our ballclub but we're going to have to find ways to win games without him."
Zimmerman initially felt the strain early in March and was shut down for three days before returning to the lineup. But he was then shut down a second time for over a week dealing with groin soreness closer to the end of spring training. Nationals medical director Wiemi Douoguih said that ultimately, all of those issues are related to the rectus tear.
"That was all part of the same thing," Douoguih said. "But this seems to be an isolated tear of the rectus. The rectus is connected to the groin through the pubic bone and he seems to have an isolated tear."
Both Zimmerman and Douoguih indicated that neither party had regrets about attempting to rehab the injury before opting for surgery, despite the fact that Zimmerman missed three additional weeks in doing so.
"There's a lot of guys who have little tiny strains and it doesn't go on to anything more and it certainly appeared that that was going to be the case with him," Douoguih said. "And then he had a major traumatic event sliding into second base."
"We did everything we could to try and avoid [surgery], which is the first step, always," Zimmerman said. "It's just one of those things where it was continuing to linger and it's so early in the season that to get this done and to get back in six weeks or whatever they say it was, it just makes sense instead of trying to deal with it all year."
Zimmerman was shut down for 16 days before he began to attempt to test the area with some baseball activities.
He had been throwing from a short distance with head athletic physician Lee Kuntz in the outfield before the Nationals' games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week but did not progress from one day to the next and wasn't able to increase the work load — which prompted a second-opinion visit with Dr. Bill Meyers in Philadelphia on Friday.
"I don't want to say [he had] pain but he was just not comfortable with throwing as we tried to move beyond short distance things," Kuntz said. "It just never got better."
The Nationals have been using a combination of Jerry Hairston Jr. and Alex Cora, primarily, to fill in for the Gold Glove third baseman. Their defense at the position has been adequate in his absence but the loss of his bat in the lineup has proved detrimental.
While the Nationals were only hitting .222 as a team during the eight games Zimmerman played in to start the season, he himself was off to a hot start with a .357 batting average and .486 on-base percentage. They've managed to hit just .235 in the 17 games without him.
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