Zim joins Nats in Miami, could play this weekend

Zim joins Nats in Miami, could play this weekend

MIAMI -- Ryan Zimmerman has made enough strides in his rehab program to not need any more work at the Nationals' Spring Training Complex in Viera, Fla., where he was rehabbing from a Grade 3 hamstring strain since Tuesday. Zimmerman rejoined the Nationals at Marlins Park on Friday, and he has the potential to be activated from the disabled list by the end of this series.

"He's answered every question down there. The question would be whether he would play tomorrow here, or whether he needs a day," manager Matt Williams said on Friday. "He won't play there anymore."

The former National League All-Star third baseman and Gold Glove Award winner has accumulated around 30 at-bats in simulated games over the last few days while also getting the chance to work almost every corner of the field. He's seen time at third base, first base and left field. On Friday in Viera, Zimmerman played seven innings in left and went 3-for-8 with a home run.

"He's had to run down to first and try to beat a grounder," Williams said. "He's had to play in the infield and the outfield and go to the gap and chase down a ball, and do all the things that he has to do anyway. I think he's ready to go."

The Nationals have been without their veteran leader more often than they've had him this season. Between a fractured right thumb early in the year -- that caused him to miss 44 games -- and this pulled hamstring, Zimmerman had missed 99 of the Nationals' 152 games entering Friday night's contest.

Even though Washington has accomplished plenty since he landed on the DL on July 23 -- they were 33-20 and put so much space between themselves and the second-place Braves that when they clinched the National League East title they had a 12 1/2 game cushion -- Zimmerman's return will be a welcome one.

"It's like making a trade for a proven run producer," Williams said.

At the time of his injury, Zimmerman was batting .282 with five homers, 19 doubles and 36 RBIs. But he was also finally getting into a groove, putting up a .362/.418/.569 slash line in July, with 16 of his RBIs coming in the month

It might be difficult for Zimmerman to settle back into that groove. He's missed the last 53 games, and only just started playing full-throttle this week. Williams plans to use him as much as possible in the Nationals' final week of the regular season, but how much will also depend on how Zimmerman feels. It's like he's breaking from Spring Training, so Williams says he's experiencing "general body soreness."

That raises another question of whether or not Zimmerman will be part of the NL Division Series roster. It's no question that the Nationals do well with him in the lineup; in the 52 games he has started, they're 33-19.

But in Zimmerman's absence, a handful of other players have picked up the slack. Washington has benefited from the return of Bryce Harper to left field, Anthony Rendon's move to third and the acquisition of Asdrubal Cabrera to play second. Deciding how to shuffle around the lineup to prepare Zimmerman for a potential playoff role won't be easy.

For now, Williams is just excited to finally have his entire team back together.

"Of course we want him to be productive and we want him to feel good about it," the manager said. "But at the same time, you have to give guys days off in order for him to get in there. It's a good time, it's a good opportunity to be able to play him five innings in a position and have a lot of guys to pick him up in that regard too.

"We have no idea who we're gonna play or when or how at this point. We just know that he's a guy that we want on our roster, and he's a run producer and his presence in the lineup means a great deal. Depending on his health, we'll be able to get him in there."

Maria Torres is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.