Zimmerman taking it slow and steady this spring, by design

VIERA, Fla - When the Nationals embark early Wednesday morning on the three-hour drive to Port Charlotte for their Grapefruit League opener against the Rays, Ryan Zimmerman won't be on the bus. Then again, neither will any of the projected regular members of their starting lineup, veterans who generally don't have to make such a long spring training road trip.

Zimmerman, though, isn't expected to be in the lineup for Thursday's home opener at Space Coast Stadium, even though several other big-names (Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and more) likely will play.

Ryan Zimmerman runs white.jpgBefore anyone gets alarmed, this is all by design and not a reaction to any issues Zimmerman has had so far in camp. After a nagging foot injury wreaked havoc with him last season, the 31-year-old first baseman purposely is taking a slow-and-steady approach this spring, hoping to avoid any reoccurring problems.

"It was planned," he said. "We've been taking as much time to stay off the foot, just cause it's smart."

Zimmerman has been participating fully in workouts over the last week, taking batting practice on the field with teammates, taking every ground ball at first base. The only area he has held back in is running. For example: While everybody else on the team took formal sliding practice this morning, he ran through some one-on-one conditioning drills off to the side.

"I've been running on the treadmill," he said. "Today was the first day I've been outside. We'll probably ramp it up this week and see how I feel next week. Once I'm good with running the bases, I'll start playing."

Zimmerman typically is a player who, even when 100 percent healthy, prefers not to play very much in spring training. He always has felt like he needs only a few weeks of at-bats to be ready for the regular season.

"I mean, I can play," he said. "I just don't need to yet."

Manager Dusty Baker appreciates the plan the club has in place for Zimmerman, emphasizing the importance of a slow-and-steady pace for veteran players.

"I'm impressed that he was running as much as he was," Baker said. "And hitting and fielding his position. We've got a month. Our goal is to have him ready by opening day, with no setbacks. ... And without having to rush him in this period of time (pointing to the final two weeks of March on a calendar in his office) to get him ready. If you have to rush him at this period of time, then you have to play him more than you normally would.

"I know how to get guys ready. I've been where they've been, injury-wise. As a rookie, as a veteran, as an older player. That's my job, to coach them up."

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