NEW YORK - The absence of Ryan Zimmerman in the Nationals lineup for tonight's series opener against the Mets seemed odd at first glance, given that the struggling first baseman had broken through with a 2-for-3 performance Wednesday that included a home run.
Turns out Zimmerman isn't 100 percent healthy. Manager Dusty Baker wouldn't specify what precisely is ailing Zimmerman, but the veteran did do something Wednesday that left him "sore."
"He has the day off because he's sore some," Baker said. "He felt a little sore on a swing yesterday. So he's day-to-day. We'll just give it to him for precaution and re-evaluate the situation tomorrow."
Baker did insist the injury is not related to either of the two ailments that nagged Zimmerman for long stretches in prior seasons: a sprained right shoulder and plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
Thus, what already had been a frustrating first half to the season for Zimmerman turned worse. Even with Wednesday's performance, he's still hitting .221 with a .284 on-base percentage and a .686 OPS that ranks 26th out of 27 qualifying major league first basemen.
The 31-year-old has never struggled to this extent over this prolonged a stretch of a season except when he's been trying to play through injury, but Baker insisted this particular ailment only cropped up Wednesday.
"Up to this point, he's been OK," the manager said. "I guarantee, up to this point, yeah, he's been fine. We tried to use him according to how his foot was feeling. You saw how we used him early in spring training (easing him into regular game action). And then we've been using him more and more lately. His foot's doing fine."
That this occurred in the wake of the best game in some time for Zimmerman, who did not appear in the Nationals clubhouse this afternoon while reporters were present, only adds to the frustration.
"It's real tough. We felt that he was just getting going," Baker said. "But we have to deal. It is what it is. Hopefully we don't miss him for too long. We're trying to prevent him from him being out an extended period of time. Because you just had a feeling his time is coming. But that's part of this game. You have to deal with some surprises. It's a game of adjustments, so we just have to continue to adjust."
For tonight, the Nationals are going with Clint Robinson at first base. If Zimmerman needs to miss more time, though, the club could make a more dramatic change: Slide Daniel Murphy to first base and promote top prospect Trea Turner to play second base.
The team already was playing with a reduced, four-man bench after demoting Michael A. Taylor to Triple-A Syracuse in order to clear a spot when closer Jonathan Papelbon returned from the disabled list. Now they'll be playing with only three reserves (one of them backup catcher Jose Lobaton) for at least tonight's game.
"We had hoped to fix that," Baker said. "We didn't want to go into this series short in the first place. Because we hadn't been short all year. We rely on our bench, so we just have to make a decision to alleviate that shortness on our bench here soon."