Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams was happy to get 3B/1B/LF Ryan Zimmerman back in the lineup yesterday, but as he noted after Zimmerman went 2 for 4 with two doubles and an RBI, as nice as it was to have the 29-year-old slugger back contributing on offense, the Nats are still a bat short of their expected everyday lineup.
"We saw tonight what [Zimmerman] can do offensively," Williams said after the 7-0 win. "It's nice to be able to have it the way we wanted to have it initially. We're still missing a guy, but it was good. Guys swung the bat tonight."
The "guy" in question, is, of course, Bryce Harper, who remains on the sidelines as he recovers from surgery to repair the torn ligament in his left thumb he suffered sliding headfirst into third on a base-clearing triple in an April 25th game in Nationals Park.
Williams said yesterday that Harper's still a month away from returning. Though the Nats' skipper was happy to get Zimmerman back and is looking forward to Harper's return, he wanted to make sure not to disparage the players who have filled in while one Opening Day starter after another has landed on the DL.
"You've got to be careful because it's unfair to the guys that have been playing that have kind of kept us in this thing," he said. "They've played really good and been put into situations that they're not really accustomed to. Guys like [Kevin Frandsen] getting out there and playing multiple positions and grinding at bats. And Nate [McLouth]. And [Greg Dobbs] coming over and getting some starts. And [Tyler Moore]. And all those guys.
"But, when you look at the beginning of the season and Spring Training and you look at your projected lineup, it includes Zimmerman and Harper and [Denard] Span and [Wilson] Ramos, so it's important for us to have those guys in that lineup because it makes us go. So it's nice to have those guys back, like we talked about last night. We've got one more to go and he'll be back pretty soon, so we're all looking forward to that as well."
Harper still hasn't started baseball activities though, and he's weeks away from returning.
"He was out doing some fielding stuff [yesterday]," Williams said. "So he can do some minor stuff with the thumb. He's continuing to work with the therapist and do a little bit of strengthening, but he can't swing a bat yet, it's not time yet. He's itching, he's pacing, but that's one of those things where he's 21 years old and if it doesn't heal right, it could affect him long-term. So we want to make sure he's good before he's able to get back out here."
When will he be back? Williams wasn't willing to or couldn't commit to a firm date.
"We don't know yet," the first-year manager said. "I'd like to see him back by the 1st of July. I think that would be a good target, but we just don't know. It depends on how everything else goes."
"He's just doing some fielding with his glove and some throwing," Williams continued, "just to maintain as much motion as he can, maintain as much baseball activity as he can without doing too much with it."
The injury is different from Zimmerman's, however.
Once the fracture in Zimmerman's thumb was healed, he was able to ramp things up quickly and get right back on the field and in the lineup after four rehab games.
"[Harper will] be a little bit longer time off as well and he won't be able to do as much defensively," Williams said. "So that will take him a little longer to get him back in shape. He's lifting and doing all his leg stuff and running and all of that, but he won't be able to do as much baseball activity as [Zimmerman] was able to do, so it might take a little bit longer."
• We talked about Zimmerman's return, the plan when Harper comes back and more on last night's edition of Nats Nightly: