When the Washington Nationals announced their lineup for tonight's Grapefruit League game with the visiting Houston Astros from Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida, there was a familiar name penciled in at third though he's hitting fourth instead of the three-hole he's occupied in the past. Zimmerman makes his defensive debut tonight.
"Obviously it's a lot freer and more natural after the cleanup and things," Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman told MLB Network Radio hosts Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette a week ago today in a discussion about his surgically-repaired right shoulder, "but we've still got about week or so of strengthening to go and everything feels great, it's just not strong enough yet. And that's just part of the process. You can't, unfortunately, rush that, and you have to kind of go through the step-by-step rehabilitation plan and once we get there we'll be good to go." A week after those comments, and a day after Nats' skipper Davey Johnson told reporters, including the Washington Post's James Wagner, that the on-field debut of the 28-year-old third baseman was close, the Nationals' released their lineup for tonight's game with the Houston Astros and a familiar name was penciled in at the hot corner:
#Nationals lineup tonight vs. HOU: Span 8, Werth 9, Harper 7, Zimmerman 5, LaRoche 3, Desmond 6, Espinosa 4,Ramos 2, Strasburg 1— Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) March 16, 2013
Barring any injuries, setbacks or hiccups and with a decision on the Nats' Opening Day catcher still pending, that looks an awful lot like the lineup the Nationals will put out there on April 1st when they start the 2013 campaign at home in the nation's capital against the Miami Marlins.
Zimmerman's 11 for 22 with three doubles and a home run in seven games so far this Spring, but tonight's he'll take the field and test his shoulder for the first time in live action since he had surgery to repair the problem that plagued him throughout the Nationals' run at the division title last season.
Davey Johnson told reporters on Friday, as the WaPost's Mr. Wagner wrote, that Zimmerman was currently at "90 to 95 percent arm strength" and said he would talk to his third baseman this morning before deciding whether the infielder would make his debut this weekend or on Monday since Sunday was a Grapefruit League road game not likely to feature many veterans in the lineup. Zimmerman's been throwing across the diamond for over a week now as he explained in the MLB Network Radio interview last weekend, but tonight's game (which is on MASN and MLB.tv) will be the first live-action test for the one-time Gold Glove winning infielder.
After receiving a cortisone shot last June that alleviated the pain caused by inflammation in the AC joint in his right shoulder, Zimmerman finished the 2012 season strong, posting a .321/.383/.584 line with 26 doubles and 22 HRs in the final 90 games 399 plate appearances of his eighth MLB season, leaving him with a .282/.346/.478 line for the year with 36 doubles and 25 HRs in 145 games and 641 PAs, over which he was worth +4.5 fWAR. Zimmerman and the rest of the Nationals will be backing up Stephen Strasburg tonight in Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium as they take on the visiting Houston Astros.