Zimmerman will play in MLB games “real soon” (Nats fall 10-0)

JUPITER, Fla. - Ryan Zimmerman’s spring in hiding continues, but probably not much longer.

The Nationals first baseman, who has been playing almost exclusively on minor league fields and not in big league games, will make his much-anticipated return to Grapefruit League action this week. Though Davey Martinez didn’t give an exact plan that’s to occur, the manager did acknowledge it’s on the horizon.

“Yeah, we’ll get him in,” Martinez said. “There’s no real time frame for now, but he’s expected to play here real soon.”

Ryan-Zimmerman-swing-red-away-sidebar.jpgZimmerman has appeared in only one Grapefruit League game so far this spring, going 1-for-2 with a double March 2 against the Mets. Since then, all of his at-bats have taken place in minor league scrimmages and games, including another one today in West Palm Beach.

The unusual playing schedule has left many wondering if Zimmerman is dealing with an undisclosed injury, but the 33-year-old has insisted all along he’s 100 percent healthy and simply prefers to get his work done in the more controlled environment of minor league games, where the rules are lax.

For example, players can lead off every inning if they like, not confined to adhering to a preset batting order. They can play an inning in the field, then sit one out, then return for another if they prefer. They also feel less pressure to try to take extra bases or dive for balls than they would playing in front of fans in a stadium.

Zimmerman, who has never been a fan of the spring training routine, approached Martinez with this idea several weeks ago and the rookie manager agreed to let him try it out.

“Like I’ve said, he’s very content, and I like it,” Martinez said. “And he’s doing well. So we’ll stay with the program.”

Now that the final week of camp has arrived, though, Zimmerman will need to start playing more innings in the field in big league games with the rest of his regular lineup mates. He wasn’t included on the preliminary lineup card for Monday’s game against the Marlins in Jupiter, so Tuesday’s home game against Miami appears to be the first possible date for his return to public action.

Daniel Murphy, meanwhile, continues to take batting practice with his veteran teammates but does not appear to be close to playing in games, leaving the second baseman all but certain to miss opening day at this point.

Murphy, who is recovering from October microfracture surgery on his right knee, has made some minor advancements in recent days but not enough to suggest he’s on the verge of game action.

“He’s taking a little bit more ground balls, and he’s progressing really well,” Martinez said. “He is, and he’s happy where he’s at. That’s good. He’s got to continue to do his BP and take ground balls and running progression, and we’ll see where he’s at.”

Update: Needing a positive outing today to help state his case for a spot in the rotation even after the Nats signed Jeremy Hellickson, A.J. Cole delivered his best start of the spring. The right-hander struck out six batters over four strong innings, allowing only one run to a Cardinals lineup full of regulars. José Martinez did tag a 92 mph fastball to left-center in the bottom of the fourth, producing the afternoon’s lone run to date. But that was one small dent in an otherwise standout performance from Cole, who picked the right time to do it. The Nationals trail 1-0 after five innings.

Update II: Brandon Kintzler has hadña pretty nondescript spring, but his one inning of work today was anything but that. Pitching the bottom of the sixth, the veteran reliever allowed five runs (four earned) on four hits and a walk. An error by Matt Adams didn’t help, but the vast majority of the damage was directly attributable to Kintzler. The Nats suddenly find themselves in a 6-0 hole heading to the seventh.

Update III: Make it 8-0 now after the Cardinals tacked on two more runs against Matt Grace in the bottom of the seventh. Grace had been enjoying a stellar spring, with a 1.13 ERA over his first six appearances.

Update IV: The Cardinals went up 10-0 in the eighth on an RBI double by Luke Voit and Yairo Muñoz’s run-scoring single. That’s the way it ended.

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