In addition to their first September call-ups (catcher Raudy Read, infielder Adrián Sanchez, and outfielder Andrew Stevenson), the Washington Nationals reinstated four players, (Sean Doolittle, Ryan Zimmerman, Jeremy Hellickson, and Austin Voth), from their respective stints on the Injured List as rosters expanded when the calendar turned to the final month of the regular season.
Doolittle and Zimmerman are, of course, the two players who’ll likely contribute the most to the stretch run, if they can get up to 100% quickly as they recover, Doolittle from right knee tendinitis, and a lot of work over the first five months of the season, and Zimmerman from a bought with plantar fasciitis and a partial plantar fascia rupture which happened in late July, after just 11 games back from his first IL stint of the season (which cost him 55 games).
Manager Davey Martinez was clear, however, that though they’re back, neither Doolittle or Zimmerman would be jumping right back into the roles they’d held previously before their injuries.
Martinez talked about his plans for Zimmerman on Saturday, before the official word on the first baseman’s return.
“I talked to him a little bit,” the second-year skipper explained.
“He’ll play some against some lefties, come off the bench, but we’ve got some guys that are playing pretty well, and this is a good problem to have, but we can rotate guys in and out, and obviously his defense is really, really good, so I told him, I said, ‘Even days you don’t play and you pinch hit, I want you to play defense as well,’ so just be prepared, and he’s excited to just come back in any capacity.
“Zim’s a true professional, and if he gets going that will be a huge bat for us, it really will. I’m going to say — if he starts swinging bat like Zim can, he’ll play. He’s going to get his playing time, so I just hope he gets back and he can finish out the season healthy.”
“It’s been a brutal year,” Zimmerman acknowledged. “You know the rest of my body feels great, and not being able to be here and play is frustrating. It’s been nice to watch them turn it around like they have and that’s made it a little bit easier.
“When they’re winning pretty much every night, it cheers you up a little bit more, but you always want to be a part of it, you want to be in there, and it’s definitely — if not the most frustrating year, it’s up there.”
Once Zimmerman’s return was official, Martinez reiterated what he said about working him back in (though he did pencil Zim in at first base, batting sixth on Sunday).
“He understands that we have other guys that are having unbelievable years, and he gets it,” Martinez explained, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. “He just wants to be part of it, and I want him to be part of it. As we all know, if Zim gets hot ... man, he can carry us for this next month.”
“That’s what you play for,” Zimmerman said of returning for the stretch run. “You want to be in there in September and you want to be playing meaningful games in the last three or four weeks. And that’s kind of the position we’ve put ourselves in — done a great job to turn around the start that we had — obviously wasn’t what we wanted it to [be], but it kind of shows you what kind of team we have and the fight and where we’re at now, and we haven’t accomplished anything yet, so we’ve just got to keep going, keep having fun, and keep just trying to win the game every day.”
As for Doolittle? While both Martinez and GM Mike Rizzo were saying he’d return to the ninth inning/closer’s role when he was ready to come back, after talking and assessing his stuff, he will be starting in low-leverage situations and working his way back slowly in the major leagues, as opposed to the minors.
“Stuff-wise I’m not ready to be at the back end of a game,” Doolittle said when he spoke to reporters before the finale with the Miami Marlins on Sunday, “but I still think I can help the team and keep guys like [Daniel Hudson] and [Hunter Strickland] and [Roenis Elías] — I can keep those guys fresh, I can help get them the ball, I can match up against lefties with an eye on hopefully getting back into one of those roles at the back end of the game at some point here in the next couple weeks.”
“We were considering doing another rehab assignment,” Doolittle added, “... but with rosters expanded in September, I can work in some lower-leverage situations in the meantime, and kind of work my way back and try to help the team in the process.”
“But I told him,” Martinez said, as quoted on MASN, “in order for us to be super effective, we need you to be that guy again. We’ll get there. Take baby steps. You’re healthy.
“Just build you back up. ... But that’ll come. And I need him to believe that that will happen.”
Zimmerman homered and went 1 for 3 with a walk in his return to the lineup. Doolittle came on with a six-run lead in the ninth and retired the side in order in a low-leverage return.
“I still think Zim has a lot left to give if he’s healthy, you know,” Martinez said after the game, “and the biggest thing now is to keep healthy, and keep him going, because he’s dangerous when he’s up there, he really is, and his defense has always been good, so we’ve just got to keep him healthy now for the next five, six weeks, and then go from there.”
He was also glad he found a good spot to get Doolittle some work.
“I wanted to get him out there,” he said.
“I could have used him in the eighth inning, but I wanted him to get used to the ninth inning, and come out and just try to keep it normal as possible, and he did well. He got three fly balls, typically when he’s good he’s either a strikeout or ground ball pitcher.”