As the Nationals start their game against the Arizona Diamondbacks today, trying to salvage a series split and regain some momentum after being shut out the last two days, their best player will be on a field more than 2,200 miles away, playing his first game in almost two months.
Ryan Zimmerman begins a rehab assignment at Single-A Hagerstown at 4:05 this afternoon, playing in a game for the first time since tearing an abdominal muscle on April 9 and having surgery to repair it on May 3. He'll be in a lineup with Bryce Harper, and he'll be on a field at precisely the same time the Nationals will. If everything goes well, Zimmerman could be back in the majors by the time the team returns from its West Coast road trip on June 14. If things go extremely well, Zimmerman could fly out west and join the team before that.
But when he gets there, he'll join a team that's been shut out nine times in 58 games this season. Only one of those came in the eight games Zimmerman played (the Nationals lost 2-0 on opening day), but they went 3-5 with him, and only scored more than four runs three times.
So, my question to you this morning is this: When Zimmerman returns, how much of an impact can he actually be expected to make? The Nationals have talked all season about the day when their third baseman comes back to the lineup, saying things will get better if they can only hang on until he returns. Is that realistic, or is it too much to expect to think Zimmerman can lift this offense?
I've opened a poll below; leave your vote there, and we'll see what you all think about it. And in the comments section, let me know why you voted the way you did.
Update: Looks like most of you are optimistic about the effect of Zimmerman's return; 52 percent of you have said he will make a big difference, and 44 percent said he'll give some boost to the offense. Only four percent of you believe the Nationals' offense isn't going to be helped by one player.