Dave Nichols: Does Zimmerman's return come at a cost?

Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg have been generating a lot of hype these days, and rightfully so. Both are exciting young players who should lead the Nationals' attempts at glory for the next 10 years or so. But there's no questioning that the face of the franchise remains third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Zimmerman struggled mightily for most of the first three months of the season and the rest of the Nats' offense followed. He got out of the gate cold. He suffered an injury to the A/C joint of his right shoulder that didn't affect his throwing but presumably did affect his swing. He spent time on the disabled list. He returned and was even more ineffective.

That was, until June 24.

Before that Sunday game against the Baltimore Orioles, Zimmerman received an injection of cortisone into that ailing right shoulder. He went 2-for-4 that day after going 2-for-28 the previous week. Since then, all Zimmerman's done is hit .370/.408/.739 with five doubles, four home runs and 16 RBIs. Two of the doubles were mere feet from being home runs. The difference is simply remarkable. The Nats offense has averaged 7.2 runs per game since Zimmerman returned. Causal or coincidence?

It's not uncommon for players to receive cortisone shots during the course of a season. These procedures have been happening for decades. Back in the day, some pitchers used to get a shot before every start. Every NHL game features multiple players that get shot up so they can get through the game. It's a nasty business sometimes. In real life, doctors generally won't prescribe a cortisone shot more than once a month to alleviate joint pain.

The Nationals have said that Zimmerman can do no further damage to the A/C joint while playing with it and the cortisone is just helping with the soreness attributed to the injury. In an interview on MLB.com after that game against the Orioles, Zimmerman mentioned bone chips in the joint, which was leading to the inflammation, and how doctors might want to clean those up at the end of the season.

"If it continues to do this every few weeks, at the end of the year they can go in and take the little (bone) chips out," Zimmerman said. "That's about as minor of a surgery as you can have, four to six weeks or something like that. So it wouldn't be a huge deal. But again, we obviously don't want to do that."

The Nats certainly don't want that to happen over summer, especially with how well Zimmerman has been playing since the injection. With the Nats reaching 15 games over .500 with the July 4 win over the San Francisco Giants to extend their National League-best record to 47-32, the Nats have to be considered one of the front-runners for the pennant. They will already be preparing for a pennant race "absent Strasburg," as manager Davey Johnson said Wednesday; they'd hate to be without Zimmerman as well.

Dave Nichols covers the Nationals for District Sports Page. Read Nichols' Nationals observations as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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