- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2015

When Denard Span had abdominal surgery last month, his second procedure of the offseason, the Washington Nationals’ center fielder was expected to be out four to six weeks before resuming any kind of baseball activities.

Yet on Monday, exactly four weeks after the March 9 surgery, he took swings in the batting cage at Nationals Park and said he planned to hit in a simulated game Tuesday. His rehabilitation process has moved more quickly than anticipated, and he estimated he could return to the field in about three weeks.

“Still kind of hard to say,” Span said. “I feel good, but spring training is starting for me right now. I got get my at-bats, I got to get my timing and get a feel for the speed of the game. All those things. I don’t know, usually regular spring training is about three weeks long worth of games, so if everything goes well that’s what I’m saying. But we have to see what the trainers and [manager Matt Williams] and Mike [Rizzo] and all those guys say.”

Though Span still has several obstacles to clear before rejoining the Nationals, he remains optimistic about his progress. He has been running sprints in the outfield and playing catch for more than a week now. On Saturday and Sunday, he played three innings in center field during minor-league games. He’s ahead of schedule.

“Honestly, even when I found out the news I was going to get surgery, and even the day of surgery and soon after surgery, I didn’t think I’d be running and moving around the way I’ve been moving around four weeks out, today,” Span said.

Span has yet to face live pitching, a step he expects to take Tuesday. While he feels healthy enough to swing, and has hit balls in the batting cage, he said he wanted to be cautious in his progression.

“I’m just not ready to hit,” Span said. “I’ve got to catch up on reps in the cage and make sure my swing is good. Guys don’t just show up on the first day of spring training and start hitting sliders and changeups. I kind of need to get back in that shape and iron out some of the kinks with my swing.”

Span is one of five players who began the season on the disabled list, a group that also includes third baseman Anthony Rendon, who has a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, and left fielder Jayson Werth, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

Of that group, Williams said Werth is most likely to return, with Span right behind.

Denard is going through a full workout and playing in those minor-league games,” Williams said. “It’s a little bit spring training-esque for him right now where we’ll get him three innings, we’ll get him five innings and then get him out on a rehab assignment to build up and start playing in games. Jayson’s closer. Anthony’s probably the furthest away, but that can change this week.”

Span said he has a mental checklist of feats he would like to accomplish before returning, including stealing a base and scoring from second on a ball hit to the outfield. He had to sprint to catch a ball in the gap during his minor-league game Sunday, which was an important step. How will he know when he’s ready to return?

“Just feel,” he said. “Even when I got to about two weeks. You get up out of bed and you start moving around, riding the bike and doing stuff like that. I’m always doing a self-evaluation of how my body is feeling. Just from a week-and-a-half, two weeks, just doing that and feeling good each day since then.”

No extension for Zimmermann by Opening Day deadline

Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann has said all spring that he would not negotiate a new contract during the season, setting an arbitrary deadline of Opening Day.

When that deadline arrived Monday afternoon, he had not agreed to a new deal, all but ensuring he will leave the Nationals in free agency at the conclusion of the season. Zimmermann, who threw the only no-hitter in Nationals history in the 2014 regular-season finale, is scheduled to make his first start of 2015 on Wednesday.

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