Pregame Nationals news and notes

JUPITER, Fla. - Some news and notes from Nationals manager Jim Riggleman before today’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium:

* The Nationals still don’t have a timetable for third baseman Ryan Zimmerman’s return to game action. Zimmerman has not played since last Monday because of a left groin injury. “I’m really letting the trainer and Zim determine that. I guess I’m hoping.Thursday. ... I don’t know that he’ll play Thursday, but I think that would be the earliest,” Riggleman said. Zimmerman hit soft toss yesterday and was hoping to participate in fielding drills today, but said he might not play until after the Nationals’ off day on Wednesday.

* Right-hander Chad Gaudin, who threw five innings in a minor league game Sunday, could make the team as a long reliever, Riggleman said. With lefty Tom Gorzelanny positioned to get the fifth spot in the rotation, Gaudin could assume the long relief role in the bullpen. Riggleman likes the fact that Gaudin is versatile enough to also work late with the game on the line. The next step for Gaudin will be to get him in some major league games before camp breaks. “He’s the one who’s gotten shorted from the major league competition more than anybody else. ... When you’ve got seven or eight guys competing and their day comes up, somebody has to (pitch in a minor league game),” Riggleman said. Because he worked five innings Sunday, Gaudin would need at least four days before he could work again. Gaudin is 1-0 with a 4.09 in three major league spring games, all starts. He has walked two and struck out 12 in 11 innings.

* Riggleman expressed a desire for the eventual winner of the competition for center field - Nyjer Morgan, Rick Ankiel or Roger Bernadina - to seize the job full-time, rather than mixing and matching depending on pitching matchups. But Riggleman expects whoever emerges as the center fielder to produce or the Nationals will consider changes. “It’s a reactionary thing. We react to what they do. If they play well, keep putting them out there. If they don’t, try something else,” Riggleman said.