Zimmerman feels good in left, eyes Tuesday return

Veteran plays five innings for Class A Advanced Potomac in first career outfield start

Zimmerman feels good in left, eyes Tuesday return

WOODBRIDGE, Va. -- For his first 1,228 professional baseball games, Ryan Zimmerman never played anywhere except on the left side of the infield.

Saturday night was different. The Nationals' veteran third baseman, playing his second Minor League rehab game at Class A Advanced Potomac, jogged across the infield dirt, past his usual domain, and into the grassy environs of left field at Pfitzner Stadium.

Zimmerman spent five mostly-uneventful innings in left, misplaying his only real opportunity. Still, it was another step toward manning the position he'll play at least on a part-time basis when he returns to the Nats from a fractured right thumb that has kept him out since April 12.

"It's baseball. It's the same," said Zimmerman, who couldn't remember ever having played the outfield at any level. "Obviously a different position, but the game still looks and feels the same. So nothing too crazy."

After going 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly as Potomac's designated hitter on Friday, Zimmerman went 1-for-3 with a single and a strikeout on Saturday. He'll be back there on Sunday and wants to get more reps in left field even though he also figures to see some time at third and first base back in the big leagues.

Zimmerman also expects to play nine innings one of the next two days at Potomac. He reaffirmed Tuesday as "a reasonable target date" to return to the Nats, barring any setbacks.

Earlier on Saturday, Nats manager Matt Williams said that even though Zimmerman has been getting a lot of work in left field recently, it's difficult to simulate the types of hard line drives that occur during games. That might have been an issue for Zimmerman in the third inning, when he saw his only significant defensive action.

Salem's Leonel Escobar sent a line drive soaring into the left-center gap, well to Zimmerman's left. Zimmerman, who said he had trouble finding the ball, took his first couple of steps to his right before reversing course. Although the ball most likely could not have been caught, the mistake turned an almost certain single into an easy double as Zimmerman chased it down.

"It's tough to see at the beginning with the sun and things like that," Zimmerman said. "Broke the wrong way but recovered, got the ball in to the cutoff man."

Zimmerman has had trouble making long throws from third base over the past two seasons due to his surgically repaired right shoulder, but said his heave from deep in the gap to the cutoff was easier.

"Arm felt good," he said. "I think the outfield's so much different. You can get a lot more momentum behind it, use your legs a little bit more, have a little bit more time. So it's a different animal."

At the plate, Zimmerman singled in his first at-bat on a line drive that tipped off the glove of leaping Salem second baseman Reed Gragnani and trickled into right-center field. He flied out to center in his second at-bat and struck out in his third.

More importantly, Zimmerman worked the count to 3-2 in two of those trips to the plate and saw a total of 20 pitches on the night.

"That's kind of the plan," he said. "I'll take a good amount of pitches anyways, but down here I have the luxury of taking a few more pitches, seeing changeups, sliders, things like that. I have the luxury of not really worrying about getting into a hole or anything like that. But it feels good to be back up there and competing and trying to do good things."

Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.