Ryan Zimmerman was expected to play nine innings and start in left field Wednesday, but a rainout threw a small wrench into plans to maximize his at-bats over the remainder of the regular season.
Manager Matt Williams has repeatedly said he would like to get Zimmerman as many at-bats as possible before the playoffs, but because the 29-year-old will not play both legs of either of the team’s doubleheaders this week, Wednesday’s rainout essentially prevented him from taking three or four at-bats he might have otherwise been able to take.
“We’ll just have to deal with it. It’s part of the game that we play,” Williams said. “We’ll get Zim in there both days, but we’ll have to stay mindful though that right now it’s about making sure that we don’t push guys too far, either.”
Earlier Wednesday, Zimmerman said his previously strained right hamstring felt good but sore. He missed 55 games earlier this season before returning to Washington’s lineup Saturday, collecting two hits, sprinting home from third base on one play and subsequently being removed from the game.
Zimmerman has said his hamstring is at about 80 percent of full strength. When asked how close he can get to 100 percent before season’s end, he did not have a clear answer.
“Maybe it gets a little better. It’s hard to tell,” he said. “Hopefully it will continue to get better. I don’t really have an answer for that. It’s tough to think about it that way.”
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Several questions remain about Zimmerman’s health and what he can provide in the postseason. Apart from the sprint home Saturday, he has not sufficiently tested his hamstring on the base paths since rejoining the Nationals. He played seven innings in left field in his return but did not have a single ball hit his way.
Perhaps most importantly, Zimmerman has not played third base since sustaining the injury apart from a few innings at the team’s instructional league. Third would be the most sensible place for him to play on a daily basis, but it is also the position at which his hamstring would be tested most, given the reaction time and first-step quickness required there.
“It’s more demanding in the infield, that’s for sure, than the outfield,” Williams said. “He can monitor his gait, and things like that in the outfield going for a ball. He’s got help. In the infield, he may have to make a very quick movement. And it just becomes natural. That is natural for him. So we want to make sure he’s OK before he does that.”
Williams said he does not have a particular deadline by which ZImmerman, who also plays left field and first base, must play third base in order to be considered for starts there in the postseason. The manager also said Zimmerman’s health will likely not affect how he constructs the Nationals’ postseason roster.
“It could, but I wouldn’t anticipate it would,” Williams said. “He provides so much for our team. So if he’s able to play, and he feels good about it and there are no limitations, then he has those three particular places he could play in any given game. If he isn’t, then he’s very valuable off the bench.”