ATLANTA — It comes as no surprise at this point, but Ryan Zimmerman won’t have enough time to return from a strained oblique muscle to play before the end of the season.
Sidelined for three weeks with the ailment, Zimmerman has been trying to get himself feeling well enough to return to the field before season’s end. But he continues to feel a pull in the oblique muscle when he tries to swing, so Nationals officials have told him not to take a chance trying to make it back for this week’s final six games.
“At this point, to push him is not smart,” manager Matt Williams said. “He’ll continue to strengthen, start his offseason program and make sure he’s on that path and getting going again for next spring. But [a return this week] doesn’t look likely.”
Thus concludes another frustrating year for Zimmerman, who also missed seven weeks earlier in the summer while recovering from plantar fasciitis in his left foot. He wound up playing in only 95 games, hitting a career-worst .249 with 16 homers, 73 RBI and a .773 OPS that was 51 points worse than his career average.
That said, Zimmerman was among the most productive hitters in the league during his most-recent healthy stretch, posting a .311 batting average, 11 homers, 39 RBI and a 1.024 OPS over his final 39 games.
All that leaves the Nationals particularly frustrated by the events of the last six months.
“You look at what it could be,” Williams said. “I know he does. And he gets frustrated by it. … I know he wants to play a full season. And boy, if he can do that, it can be pretty impressive. That’s his outlook, and he’s looking forward to starting that process.”
Zimmerman has played in an average of only 110 games over the last five seasons, a prolonged run that has featured a variety of physical ailments both major and minor. He just turned 31 on Monday, and the challenge only gets greater for any player of his age to keep himself on the field through a long season.
“The only thing that I can say personally from experience: As you get older as a player, if you have an injury and take time off, then you risk something else when you come back,” said Williams, who averaged 99 games played from age 32 through 37. “Because the body just doesn’t react like it does when you’re young. So that being said, I personally would love for him to have a healthy season. It’s been frustrating for him. For him to get out there for 145 games, 150 games, and be able to play that, that would be great. And I know he would be very happy about that. You talk about production, if he can do that, then he’s a vital part of success.”
Zimmerman isn’t the only member of the Nationals’ lineup dealing with a nagging injury. Center fielder Michael Taylor was out again Tuesday after his knee swelled up. Taylor still hasn’t fully recovered from a collision with the fence at Nationals Park on August 27, with fluid building up in the knee. Williams said offseason surgery shouldn’t be necessary, but the club will be careful with him through this final week.
“It’s been much better,” the manager said. “They’ve gotten the swelling down, which is a really good sign. On occasion, if he bangs it, it’s just going to puff up. Once he gets through the season and gets to the offseason and not have those issues, the body will take care of the extra fluid that’s there. I don’t think there’s any issue with it, other than give him some rest.”
Yunel Escobar, meanwhile, has been dealing with an upper back strain and has been out of the lineup the last two days. Williams expects to have the veteran infielder back for most of the final week, with Escobar trying to finish his season strong and perhaps raise his batting average to .320.
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