- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Baseball, as Drew Storen lives it, is all about perspective. That has been especially important inside the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse recently.

The Nationals lost five straight entering Wednesday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but they also began the day in sole possession of first place in the NL East division by a half-game over Atlanta.

Washington scored a total of seven runs in those five defeats, but two of the club’s best hitters — Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse — missed all of them because of injuries.

There are reasons, then, to see the glass half full or half empty. Storen, who’s with Zimmerman and Morse on the disabled list, prefers to be optimistic.

“We’re playing really good baseball right now,” he said. “I think that’s the most important thing. If we were making all these errors and playing sloppy, it would be easy to do that. It’s just a nice luxury.”

Washington’s 14-4 start provided a safety net for the losing streak. And fortunately for the offensively-challenged Nationals, help is on the horizon.

Zimmerman is targeting a return to the lineup Tuesday at Pittsburgh. The Nationals‘ third baseman and No. 3 hitter missed his ninth straight game Wednesday with a right shoulder injury.

He took infield practice before Wednesday’s game and looked like his normal self. He charged grounders and flung them to first base using a sidearm motion. He worked on long throws on backhanded stops behind the bag.

Zimmerman, however, has said he feels fine fielding and throwing. Swinging a bat has caused him pain, so Friday’s hitting session is crucial to determining the date of his return. He plans to hit off a tee.

“I could use his bat,” manager Davey Johnson said. “I don’t want it for three or four days and have a problem with it. If he has to miss a couple more games, so be it. I’ll wait on him.”

Zimmerman won’t require any rehabilitation at-bats in the minor leagues.

“I’ll take him cold turkey,” Johnson said.

Johnson would take Morse, Storen and a few others back, too. Morse, Washington’s best power hitter last season, is out indefinitely with a strained lat muscle.

Storen, the Nationals‘ closer, is expected to miss the first half of the season. He expects to reach an important milestone in his recovery next week when he begins soft tossing.

He looks across the clubhouse, though, and considers himself lucky. Pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann have come back from lengthy rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery. He keeps his plight in perspective.

“The ball is rolling,” he said smiling. “That’s the biggest thing for me mentally - little mental challenges every day. You get one little thing done a day, like doing all your shoulder exercises. Minor victories.”

Back on the offensive side, Mark DeRosa expects to miss a few more games before he’s ready to return from a strained left oblique muscle. He’s thankful the Nationals‘ fast start has enabled them to withstand this rash of injuries.

“It takes pressure off guys pressing,” he said. “It’s too early to panic from an offensive standpoint. It can turn on a dime. Guys can have one good week and everyone forgets.”

In the meantime, Johnson will continue to rely on and have confidence in the role players who are filling the lineup.

“If I didn’t think they were capable, I’d be really worried,” Johnson said. “I’d be champing at the bit for the trainers to make some miraculous cure. But it’s a long season, and every individual is important on this ballclub.”

Note: Stephen Strasburg was voted National League pitcher of the month for April. In five starts, he went 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA, an NL-best 34 strikeouts and only six walks. He began Wednesday with the second-lowest ERA among qualifying pitchers in the major leagues. Teammate Jordan Zimmerman (1-1, 1.33 ERA, 16 strikeouts, 2 walks) received votes.

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