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Zimmerman hits treadmill in first phase of rehabilitation

PHILADELPHIA | Ryan Zimmerman woke up one day after arthroscopic surgery to repair a rectus tear in his abdomen and slowly, painstakingly took his first steps toward recovery.

Just as the Washington Nationals' trainers said he would, Zimmerman walked a mile on a treadmill Wednesday, officially starting the approximately six-week path that will return the All-Star third baseman to the field.

"It was a slow mile, but I made it," Zimmerman said of the 30-minute trek. "I was flying."

Back with his teammates for the first time since Dr. Bill Meyers performed the procedure Tuesday morning, Zimmerman moved gingerly about the visitors' clubhouse for a few hours before the Nationals' game against the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night. He'll return to Washington on Thursday to begin the full rehabilitation process while the team continues on to Florida and Atlanta.

Other than some swelling and soreness, which should go down over the next week, Zimmerman said he and the doctors were encouraged by the way the surgery went.

"[The doctor] said it was exactly what he thought it was," Zimmerman said. "There was a decent tear in there that he fixed. But with what he looked at in the MRI, it was exactly what he thought it was going to be when he went in there.

"Most importantly, he thinks that the timetable that they set before he went in there is right about the right time. So that's good to hear."

That timetable puts Zimmerman's return to the lineup June 14, a day the Nationals are at home against the St. Louis Cardinals. But that's a long way from where the third baseman was Wednesday afternoon.

Ahead is a rehab process that will require him to not only sharpen his skills, but also to rebuild strength in an area that is central to almost all of his movement.

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman has said numerous times that when Zimmerman is able to return to the lineup, it will have an effect equivalent to the team making a trade for a big-name player midseason. Given the team's .225 batting average heading into Wednesday night's game, it's difficult to understate the impact Zimmerman's return could have.

In the eight games before he dove head first into second base, tearing the rectus muscle, Zimmerman was hitting .357 with a .486 on-base percentage. His loss has created an obvious weak spot in the lineup, but the team isn't rushing Zimmerman back.

"I'm still a young guy," he said. "I've got a lot of baseball left to play. That's probably the most important thing, to stay with what they tell me to do. It's frustrating. I'm getting impatient not playing. But you've got to make sure you stay with it and do what they tell you to do."

NOTES: Nationals center fielder Rick Ankiel was not in the lineup for the second straight game after injuring his right wrist Monday night diving for a ball in the outfield. The wrist and hand area were still swollen Wednesday, prompting the extra day off. Ankiel, who is hitting just .221 but has played superb defense, said he rolled over the wrist of his glove hand making a catch Monday night. X-rays taken after the game came back negative, but the Nationals would like the swelling to go down before they put him back in the lineup. He has not been sent for an MRI.

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