Ryan Zimmerman on his return to the Nationals (new video)

Ryan Zimmerman’s long-awaited return to the Nationals’ lineup takes place tonight, when the third baseman takes his familiar No. 3 spot in the batting order for the team against the St. Louis Cardinals. Zimmerman, who had surgery on May 3 to repair a torn abdominal muscle, said he’s not completely pain-free yet, but he’s healthy enough to play every day.

“We waited until I got to the point where I can play every day like I usually do, and now it’s time to go out there and play,” Zimmerman said.

He said his throwing mechanics, in retrospect, were altered by the torn muscle more than anything else. Zimmerman said he thought he was compensating for the injury with a different throwing technique than he would use when he’s healthy.

His swing, he said, is back in good shape. Yesterday, he said he felt like he was fully back in game shape for the first time.

“Being out, running the bases, it’s kind of like that first-week-of-spring training soreness that I had to get through,” Zimmerman said. “Yesterday I didn’t really feel that. That was the first time I didn’t feel it, so that was a good thing. That was the last thing I had to get through.”

Ryan Zimmerman and Jim Riggleman talk about Zimmerman’s return to the Nats’ lineup

The Nationals have been anxiously awaiting Zimmerman’s return, and with him out of the lineup, their offense suffered more than anything else. They had a .662 OPS while he was hurt, and scored just 3.7 runs per game.

There’s plenty of optimism about Zimmerman being back, but the third baseman cautioned he’s not going to make all the difference.

“I can’t win eight games in one game,” Zimmerman said. “Unfortunately, our offense has been banged up quite a bit. I think Rochie (Adam LaRoche) was playing through a lot of stuff at the beginning of the year. I missed a lot of time, and (Michael) Morse had that knee thing going. A player’s not the same when they’re playing through things. It gets to that point where a lot of baseball players don’t like to be the guy to not play through injuries, but a lot of times, when you’re playing through things, it’s not helpful to the team. Our offense has unfortunately gone through kind of a lot of that this year. I think we’re starting to figure out that it’s not easy to plug guys into a major league lineup. When we’re healthy, I think we’ve got a great lineup on paper, and I don’t think it’s out of reach that we can get back to that this year.”