"I think an extra week is better than getting hurt again." Ryan Zimmerman, on being patient with his rehab from abdominal surgery.

It had been a long time since Ryan Zimmerman played Class-A ball. He played four games for Class-A Savannah in 2005, the year he was drafted, and two more for Potomac in 2008 on a rehab assignment.  That's the situation he was in on Sunday, suiting up for the Low-A South Atlantic League Hagerstown Suns.

Zimmerman is rehabbing after surgery on a torn abdominal muscle, and Sunday was his first game action since April 9, when a head first slide into second base on a throw to third triggered enough discomfort to be evaluated. The original prescription was rest, but when the pain lingered doing simple baseball activities, he was re-evaluated, revealing the need for surgery.

If Sunday's game was a test, Zimmerman aced it.  He went 2-for-2 with a double, triple, walk, RBI and two runs scored in a 6-5 win for Hagerstown over the visiting Greensboro Grasshoppers. 

The Washington Nationals third baseman hit third, ahead of last year's No. 1 overall draft pick Bryce Harper.  Unfortunately, Harper's day was over after one pitch. 

With Zimmerman at first base after walking on a couple of close pitches, Greensboro starter Jheyson Manzueta hit Harper in the left knee, one of three Suns to be hit by Manzueta on the afternoon. Harper stayed down for a minute while being attended to by trainers and Hagerstown manager Brain Daubach, and limped heavily off the field under his own power.  After an inning in the Suns' dugout, the phenom made his way down the right field baseline to the clubhouse behind the Suns bullpen.  After that short of a time, he was already walking with just a slight limp.

The ball hit Harper's left knee, his back leg.
Harper was evaluated in the clubhouse, and later joined his teammates in the bullpen to watch the final innings of the game.

A.J. Cole, one of the Nats highly ranked prospects from last year's draft, started for Hagerstown.  He pitched five innings, allowing four hits and no walks, striking out eight, earning the win.  He allowed two solo home runs.

Zimmerman spoke with media members after he left the game in the fifth inning after his three plate appearances.  The Nationals have not revealed where Zimmerman's next assignment will be, but Zimmerman was adament that he would not return to the big league lineup until he is 100 percent healthy.  The following is a transcript of those remarks.

How did it feel to be back:  "It was good.  Good to get back. Obviously it went well. It's still a little sore, but it's getting close, so it's good."

On Harper getting hit:  "He'll be all right, it's more precautionary. But it's fun to come down here and play. This team is obviously doing very well, they have a great team and great group of guys and it's fun to see how they go about their business.  Yeah, he's good, he's fine.  It was more precautionary than anything."

On his slide into third on the triple: "No more head first slides, supposedly. It felt good, everything felt great. Obviously throwing was the thing that hurt it the most before and that's the last thing that's coming back.  We still have a little bit of work to do there, but other than than, hitting feels great, running feels great and I think we're right on schedule to where we want to be. That doesn't mean I'm going to be back tomorrow or in two days, or whatever, but it was a good first step and we'll go from there."

What adjustments in his throwing: "Just being more efficient, I think.  It's a good time to work on that with this happening and now having to strengthen the core a little bit and use my legs a little bit more.  Just something we're trying to parlay into being a little more efficient.  So it's coming along good. It's a learning process, it's something new.  Just like anything that's new it takes a while to learn. But it'a good first step today and we'll go from there."

Getting into a hitting rythym:  "Hitting is usually the first thing that comes for me.  It's more of just getting out there and getting into shape.  Getting into game shape, running, like I did today.  I was out of breath pretty good for a little while after that triple, so you gotta be able to do things like that; score from second base and not be out of breath for half an inning.  So that's the biggest thing."

His next assignment:  "We haven't really talked about it yet.  I'm just excited to be able to be out there and be back again and we'll go easy at first, go a couple days at a time and see how I feel and then go from there."

Playing at the Low-A level:  "It's different. It's fun though.  It's fun to come down here and see...some of these guys are 18, 19 years old and to see them now and you know, this is where everyone starts and you get to see this then you get to see the finished product.  They got some good talent here and they're a good group of guys. The coaches do a great job of getting them ready. They play the game hard, they've had a good first half. You know, I came in here and the first things they said was you better help us win today cause it's a big game.  They do all the right things, it's a good group right here."

How soon will he return to the Nats:  "I think the biggest thing is to not come back too early.  I think an extra week is better than getting hurt again.  That's the one thing I've had to learn, is patience on this.  As frustrating as it's been, I think it's helped me grow up a little bit as far as things that you go through hat you've never gone through before.  You gotta learn from them.  Patience is one thing I've learned from here. I've always been taught to play through bumps and bruises and I think, like every baseball player, you're always taught that.  But gotta distinguish between bumps and bruises and things that are going to hinder your performance.  So I want to make sure I'm 100 percent so that I don't need to go back up there and play two games, take a day off.  When I go back up there it's game on and it's ready to go.  That's not fair to those guys, to come up there and kinda be babied.  So whenever I'm ready and feel like I'm 100 percent then I'll go."

Will he play in Hagerstown again?:  "I don't know. I'm definitely going to play another minor league game.   I don't how many, but we'll get a few more."

Tough being out with Nats offense struggling?:  "Yeah, it's tough. It's tough to see some guys maybe be hitting out of place. I think it's tough because I know how hard they work. I know how hard Rick [Eckstein] works. You know, it's tough to not have a consistent lineup at the big league level and perform. Those guys are out there grinding every night and working hard to get up there and get ready and it's tough tot watch. But for them it's a learning experience as well. Some of those guys are bring put in situations that they might not have been put in this year if we hadn't had a couple injuries and hopefully they can learn from that and be a better player and help us win later on down the road."

On a "special" day in Hagerstown: Any time you get to go down to a minor league affiliate, the fans in D.C. and Baltimore around this area love baseball.  Obviously the Orioles have been here forever and we're newer, but our fans base, I think they're very supportive. Any time we get to come down to a more low-key atmosphere like this where you can interact a little more, it's nice for them to be able to come out and maybe get a little bit closer to watch you, to watch you do things they wouldn't be able to watch at the big league level.  We owe it to them to do as much as we can to say thank you for what they've done and it's always cool to come down and do that.

On how Harper is progressing:  "I think he's good. He struggled a little bit at first, which might have been good for him.  He's going to have to learn to fail and get through that.  Everywhere he's been he's probably been the best player on his team and the best player in the league and done whatever.  It gonna happen at the big league level where you're the worst player on the team for two weeks.  It's not fun, but you have got to learn how to handle it.  We continually say you have to remember that he's an 18-year old kid.  For him to go through and be as polished and as mentally focused and grown-up in that sense as he is is pretty impressive."

"He can hit. That's one thing. You don't really have to talk about that. We just talked about how he was doing, how he's adjusting to playing every day, going from city to city.  That's the biggest adjustment, is playing the game every single day.  Obviously he's handled it well and has been playing well and with all the pressure that's been put on him just like it was on Stephen [Strasburg], I think they both have done a great job and exceeded expectations."

On the Greensboro pitcher's nerves: "Yeah, any time you get to face guys that are in the big leauges, that's what every player that's on that field wants to be in. i think it's cool for them to get a sense of how they measure up or what they do compared to what we do and it's cool to see those young kids kinda get a smile and play against us and maybe look a few years in the future and see what they can do."

Is returning for the Nats next homestand realistic?  "Anything's realistic, I think. There's really no way to put a timetable on it because everyone's different and I've never had this injury before. There's still some scar tissue there -- which is normal -- to get broken up and the more I play the more I am able to get out there and be active and do things like I did today, the better it's going to be. The only way to get that out of there and loosen it up is to play.  Like I said, I'm not going to go back if I'm 75-80 percent. I don't think that's fair to me or the team. it could be a week, it could be whatever. I don't like putting timetables on things cause then you don't want to set people up to bring them down. We're going to continue to do everything we've done. We've had positive reactions out of my body and we'll go from there."

Did it feel good to play baseball again?  "Yeah, it's nice. It's a lot better than watching, I'll tell you that much. It's hard. It's not easy to sit back and watch and even when they're in town, go to the field and watch. I think the biggest thing that you miss is being competitive. All of us, that's why we play the game.  We obviously love baseball, but to be out there when it's you against the pitcher, or when the ground ball is hit to you, it's you against the runner, that's what we thrive for. So to not be able to do that for a little bit over a month now is tough."

Harper in pain after getting hit in the first inning.


  1. The Herndon Kid // June 5, 2011 at 10:56 PM  

    Great photos, and good to see the FOF back in action.