Which means the organization and manager Davey Martinez are about to face some delicate decisions.
Zimmerman’s pending return will require the Nationals to remove someone prominent from the current 25-man roster. And then once he is officially back, Martinez will have to figure out how much playing time to give the veteran first baseman over productive regulars Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick and Brian Dozier.
First things first: Zimmerman played nine innings today at first base for Harrisburg, completing his fifth rehab game over the last week. He’s 3-for-16 overall, with an RBI, a walk and a strikeout.
“He went 0-for-4 (today), but he said he felt good,” Martinez said. “He made some good defensive plays. We’re going to see how he rebounds today and go from there. But he said he’s progressing well. He said the baseball soreness is getting out of him. He’s getting used to playing again. So that’s good news.”
The Nationals have intended to activate Zimmerman - out since April 28 with plantar fasciitis in his right foot - in time for this weekend’s series at Detroit. They haven’t formally made that decision yet, but all signs continue to point to him coming off the IL on Friday.
“It would be a good time to bring him back, playing in the American League,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “That is a point in his favor to get him back. We’ll see. Especially with plantar fasciitis, it’s always a day-to-day thing. ... But he’s close. And Detroit would be a good time to make that move, if he’s healthy enough to make it.”
Who, though, comes off the roster to make room for Zimmerman? The Nationals would either need to drop one of their eight relievers (with left-handers Matt Grace and Tony Sipp most susceptible but each out of options) or else one of their two backup outfielders (Michael A. Taylor or Gerardo Parra). Taylor does have one remaining option; Parra does not.
“We haven’t decided what kind of moves we’re going to make,” Martinez said.
Then there’s the playing time dilemma. The Nationals have been making do for now with three players at the two right side infield positions, keeping Adams, Kendrick and Dozier in a sort of rotation based on matchups and the schedule.
Zimmerman’s return, though, leaves four players for only two starting jobs. The Nationals get some help in Detroit, where they can use a DH, but that’s not a permanent solution.
Martinez suggested today Zimmerman is likely to receive less playing time than he’s used to during his career.
“We have to be really careful with him,” the manager said. “And I’ve talked to him about it. He’s not going to come here and play every day nine innings. And he understands that Howie and Matt are both doing well, so they’re going to get some playing time as well.
“For me, it’s a good problem to have. Because regardless if they start or not, you’ve got two guys on the bench that can really do some damage somewhere along in the game. That’s a good problem to have, for me. We’ll figure all that stuff out once he’s ready and he gets here. And we’ll see how he’s doing on a daily basis.”
Update: The Nationals haven’t been able to touch Zac Gallen so far tonight. The rookie right-hander allowed a first-inning single to Adam Eaton and a couple of walks since, but that’s it through five scoreless innings that have included eight strikeouts. The only saving grace right now is that his pitch count is up to 86, so he may not last much longer. Patrick Corbin has been very good, as well, but he gave up one run in the third via a two-out rally ignited by Gallen’s single. After a walk of Miguel Rojas, Harold Ramirez lined a ball to shallow left field. Juan Soto came charging in and almost made the diving catch, but the ball squirted out of his glove for an RBI single. So the Nats trail 1-0 in the fifth.
Update II: The Nats lineup got a chance to see Gallen a third time in the top of the sixth. And boy did that help. Trea Turner, Eaton and Anthony Rendon all singled off the rookie, who then was pulled by manager Don Mattingly in favor of lefty Wei-Yin Chen. It made sense, because Soto and Matt Adams were coming up to bat, but it backfired in spectacular fashion. After striking out Soto, Chen served up a towering, three-run homer to Adams. Just like that, the Nats have taken a 4-1 lead in the sixth.