- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 8, 2009

Jordan Zimmermann won’t return to the Washington Nationals’ rotation Sunday, and it’s possible he won’t be pitching for a while because of lingering elbow soreness.

The rookie right-hander, out since July 19, was due to throw a bullpen session Friday as a precursor to coming off the disabled list and starting Sunday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. But that session never happened because Zimmermann continues to experience discomfort in the elbow. He was set to undergo a second MRI on Friday.

“He wants to throw. He wants to pitch,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “But with where we’re at, we’re just not going to let him throw.”

Fellow rookie right-hander J.D. Martin (0-2 with 7.16 ERA in four starts) will remain in the rotation and is slated to pitch Sunday.

The Nationals were hopeful when Zimmermann went on the DL that he would be back as soon as the minimum 15 days passed. But though he felt fine during a 3 1/3-inning rehab start for Class A Potomac on Tuesday, he felt sore afterward, causing some concern within the organization.

The 23-year-old, Washington’s top pitching prospect entering the season, is seen as a cornerstone of the long-term rotation. Given his status, the club isn’t going to take any chances.

“I would say we’ve been [cautious] - and we’ll continue to be - with all of our young starters,” acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. “But specifically with Jordan, we’re going to be ultraconservative.”

The Nationals planned all along to limit Zimmermann to about 150 innings this season. Riggleman expressed hope that the young pitcher would still get those innings in before October while at the same time admitting that may not be possible.

“I still think he’s going to pitch,” Riggleman said. “But we’re going to make sure he’s 100 percent before he does. And if he’s not 100 percent, we won’t put him out there.”

Kearns has procedure

Austin Kearns had his injured right thumb repaired Thursday during a procedure in Baltimore that should have him back playing within a couple of weeks.

The outfielder had damaged tissue cleaned out from the thumb, which had sustained a serious injury several years ago and recently acted up again.

Kearns will be re-examined by specialist Thomas Graham on Monday, but the Nationals don’t believe he’ll need any follow-up surgery and that he can return when his 15-day DL stint ends Aug. 19.

Eight is enough

The Nationals plan to stick with an eight-man bullpen at least through the weekend.

Saul Rivera was added to the relief corps Thursday after the team traded infielder Anderson Hernandez to the New York Mets, and though Washington would prefer to get another bench player back, there’s a greater need right now for an extra pitcher.

Friday was the Nationals’ 23rd game in as many days, a long stretch without rest that has taxed the bullpen.

“It finally caught up to us,” Riggleman said. “We were hoping we’d get through to [Monday’s] off-day without doing that, and we almost did. But we just felt like we better add that pitcher instead of a position player.”

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