Zimmerman “about a week away” from rehab stint, Martinez says

Nationals manager Davey Martinez says injured first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who has been on the 10-day disabled list since May 12 (retroactive to May 10) with a right oblique strain, is progressing in his recovery and could be “about a week away” from beginning a minor league rehabilitation assignment, assuming he doesn’t encounter a setback.

“He’s missed a lot of time,” Martinez said before the Nationals’ game against the Phillies on Saturday afternoon. “We’ve got to get him some at-bats.”

Martinez’s timeline pretty much jibes with the one Zimmerman outlined earlier in the afternoon in the Nationals clubhouse. Zimmerman hedged when asked to put a percentage on where he is in his recovery, but said things were moving in the right direction.

Zimmerman-Swing-White-Sidebar.jpg“It’s hard to put a percentage,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve been doing a lot of strength stuff. I think this week coming up, we’ll continue to do that. The following week, when we come home, if everything continues to go well, that following week will be the week when we continue to ramp things up. If that goes well, it could be quick. ... But you hate saying that because we don’t know how that’s going to go.”

Zimmerman said he has been doing cage work and has engaged in his normal pregame workout routine for about 10 to 14 days now. His next steps will be running the bases and doing defensive work at first base.

“Once it feels good enough to run the bases and take ground balls, it should be pretty quick,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a matter of how many games you think you need to see live pitching.”

Therein lies the only rub between how Zimmerman and Martinez view the next step in his recovery. While Martinez said the plan is for a minor league rehab stint to get him at-bats against live game pitching, Zimmerman doesn’t sound convinced that’s necessary.

“Unfortunately, I’ve got a lot of experience with rehab,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve done rehabs where I go 10-for-20 and I’ve done rehabs where I go 1-for-25. When you get back here, that stuff doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a matter of getting on your feet. Right now, I could go play first base for nine innings.”

Zimmerman also has experience with how tricky oblique injuries can be, having been shut down with a week to go in the 2015 campaign with a slow-healing oblique strain. The last thing he wants to do is push too hard and reinjure himself.

“With obliques, ... unfortunately, you can’t rush,” he said. “You break a finger and it’s four weeks and you start doing stuff. It’s hard to put a timetable on (an oblique). I’ve had them before, and the thing with obliques is you can’t come back early. It’ll start to feel good and you have to make sure that from the time it starts to feel good, you take almost another week from there. But the good news is everything is going well.”

Zimmerman said this case is different than spring training, where he played in only one Grapefruit League game and had only two at-bats, preferring instead to work out the early camp soreness on the back fields and in minor league games, where the environment was less controlled. Some wonder if the lack of playing in spring training games against major league-caliber competition was a reason for Zimmerman’s slow start. When he was hurt, Zimmerman was slashing .167/.346/.217 with three homers and 10 RBIs.

“I was banged up at the beginning. A lot of the less-is-more stuff is when you’re hurt,” he said. “If I’m completely healthy, I’m just going to play. Same with spring training. ... Next year, I come to spring training and the first 10 days I don’t get banged up or sore or anything, I’m just going to do spring training. We weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel or anything. I think it got skewed a lot of different ways - and rightfully so, people can think what they want to think - because we’re just waiting to get better. Once it’s better and I’m cleared, I think it’ll be relatively quick.”

* Martinez said injured right-handers Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring) and Brandon Kintzler (right forearm flexor strain) will begin minor league rehab assignments with Single-A Potomac on Sunday.

The P-Nats host Wilmington at Northwest Federal Field at 1:05 p.m., ending a four-game homestand that started the second half of the Carolina League schedule.

If all goes well, both could pitch Sunday and rejoin the Nationals for their road trip to St. Petersburg, Fla., for a two-game interleague series against the Rays.

Kintzler was placed on the 10-day disabled list on June 10 and has missed 11 games. Hellickson went on the 10-day DL on June 5 (retroactive to June 4) and has been out 16 days.

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