Relieved Zimmerman doubles in return to Nats

Relieved Zimmerman doubles in return to Nats

WASHINGTON -- Ryan Zimmerman admits the past two months were equal parts frustrating and worrisome, but exactly six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a left abdominal tear -- and right on schedule -- the third baseman returned to the Nationals' lineup Tuesday against the Cardinals.

His first three at-bats were frustrating, as well, but after a pair of strikeouts and an inning-ending double play, Zimmerman doubled down the right-field line to drive in a run in Washington's 8-6 win at Nationals Park.

"You don't want to waste at-bats, but with your last two at-bats, one of them is going to be in a pressure situation," said Zimmerman, who finished 1-for-5 with a run and RBI. "After your first two at-bats you have to forget them and make up for it in the next one."

Zimmerman said his return was not any more fun or gratifying because he sparked a six-run rally against the Cardinals. He was just happy to be back on the field. Fans at the stadium greeted him with a loud ovation prior to his first at-bat.

"It's been a long, frustrating two months. I had to be patient, but we think we went about it the right way," Zimmerman said before the game. "We gave myself some time to get as close to 100 percent as I can be, so I can be effective and help these guys win without playing a couple games, then taking a day off. We waited until I was at the point where I can play every day like I usually do and now it's time to go out there and play."

To make room for Zimmerman on the roster, Washington optioned right-hander Craig Stammen to Triple-A Syracuse, which is where Zimmerman made his final rehab start.

The Gold Glove third baseman began his rehabilitation in extended spring training in Viera, Fla., where he spent two weeks getting back into game shape. His rehab assignment included trips to Class A Hagerstown, Class A Potomac and Syracuse.

Zimmerman worked out some of the scar tissue that formed. He still feels soreness, which he expects to last until the offseason, but said it does not affect his play, and felt no worse after his first game back in the Major Leagues.

"It's kind of like that first week of Spring Training -- soreness that I had to get through," he said. "[Monday] was the first time I haven't felt it, which is a good thing. That was kind of the last hump we had to get over."

The two-time Silver Slugger Award winner returned to his usual spot, hitting third in a Washington lineup that began the day last in baseball with a .229 team batting average.

Zimmerman said he could not attempt to do too much, but Jayson Werth, who was asked to carry much of the offensive burden in Zimmerman's absence, said the third baseman's presence was enough.

"This is his team," Werth said. "He's the icon of the franchise, and he's the guy. Any time you're missing a presence like that, it's definitely good to get him back. He's Ryan Zimmerman, he's the man. Just him being out there I think changes the feel a little bit."

Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.