Zimmerman could make spring debut at third base tomorrow (rotation notes)

JUPITER, Fla. - Joe Namath is in the house today at Roger Dean Stadium.

The New York Jets legend, who apparently lives nearby, walked onto the field right as the Nationals started taking batting practice, and stood near the cage with former Orioles star and MASN broadcaster Jim Palmer.

Davey Johnson and Steve McCatty both came up to the group at various points to chat it up. Johnson played alongside, and is good friends with, Palmer.

Not a bad trio there - an NFL Hall of Famer in Namath, a MLB Hall of Famer in Palmer, and Johnson, a four-time All-Star as a player and two-time Manager of the Year with three World Series rings (two as a player, one as a manager).

Meanwhile, it's looking like Ryan Zimmerman might finally make his spring debut at third base tomorrow night.

Zimmerman had offseason shoulder surgery and has been rehabbing slowly this spring, building up strength in the shoulder through a gradual throwing program. He's appeared in seven spring games as a designated hitter and is crushing the ball, batting .500 (11-for-22) with a 1.273 OPS, and he had been set to see action at third base for the first time this spring on Monday.

Johnson said that Zimmerman had a "great" throwing session yesterday, however, and depending on how he feels today, the Nats might bump that schedule up a bit and have Zimmerman play a few innings at third tomorrow against the Astros.

"I know (rehab coordinator Steve) Gober wanted him to think about playing maybe three innings on Saturday, because he liked where he was at," Johnson said. "And that would be pushing it up two days from my program. ...

"He looks great. I'm not worried about him at all. There's still plenty of time. He's right on schedule. His timing is great. That's what I was most worried about. I think he's got 22 at-bats, so he needs 28 more (this spring). He likes 50. But I imagine I'll hear from Gober sometime before gametime on how Zim feels."

Stephen Strasburg will get the start for the Nats tomorrow, and if Zimmerman is ready to play third base, Johnson plans on not using a DH and just having Strasburg hit for himself. After March 18, the Nationals will start having their pitchers hit in games against National League teams anyway, so Strasburg wouldn't be too far ahead of the other starters when it comes to getting at-bats.

Johnson added that he's not sure whether Team USA plans to use Ross Detwiler during its World Baseball Classic elimination game against Puerto Rico tonight. Detwiler comes into today with five days' rest under his belt, but Ryan Vogelsong will start for Team USA, meaning Detwiler's role is uncertain.

If Team USA loses tonight, both Detwiler and Gio Gonzalez will return to Viera and slide back into the Nationals' spring rotation. Gonzalez would then take the start March 17 on normal rest, and because of an off-day on March 19, the Nats could either use Dan Haren on normal rest on March 20, or have Detwiler take that start and bump Haren back a day.

Should Team USA win tonight, the Americans would move on to the semifinals out in San Francisco. Johnson has been told that Gonzalez would be saved for the championship game on March 19 (assuming Team USA gets there). If that's how things end up unfolding, Ryan Perry would get the start for the Nats in Gonzalez's place on March 17.

Got all that? Essentially, if Team USA loses tonight, the Nats can align their rotation as follows: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and then either Haren or Detwiler, with the other taking the No. 5 spot.

If Team USA wins tonight, things get more complicated, and not even Johnson knows how his rotation would line up.

Finally, Johnson said that Christian Garcia (torn tendon in his right wrist/forearm) will head up to Baltimore on Sunday to get examined by a specialist. Johnson confirmed today that there's "no possibility" of Garcia breaking camp in the Nationals' bullpen, and said that because of all the time Garcia has missed, he will probably need to open the season in extended spring training.

The Nats still plan to have Garcia build up arm strength and stretch out to the point he can work multiple innings at a time.

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