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Zim may not return until Tuesday

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Zim may not return until Tuesday

Though he's eligible to come off the disabled list Sunday and has been aiming to play in that night's nationally televised series finale against the Phillies, Ryan Zimmerman may not be ready to return from his shoulder injury until Tuesday.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Zimmerman will begin hitting off a tee Friday, and he'll likely need a few more days to ramp up his stroke in the batting cage and against live pitching before he comes off the 15-day DL.

"He's throwing and doing all that," Johnson said. "He feels great. But he's still got to wait, make sure we get by this injury. So I think Tuesday is his coming-out party, hopefully."

Zimmerman hasn't played since April 20 due to inflammation of the AC joint in his right shoulder. He's remained with the big-league club throughout his DL stint and for the last two days has participated in defensive drills.

The injury, though, only affected his swing, so the Nationals won't know for sure whether he's completely healed until he has a chance to pick up a bat again.

Zimmerman had expressed optimism he'd be ready to return as soon as he becomes eligible Sunday, which would allow him to play in the finale of this weekend's series against the Phillies (the first time the Nationals have appeared on Sunday Night Baseball since Zimmerman christened the new ballpark with a walk-off home run in 2008).

"I could use his bat, but I don't want him for three or four days and then have a problem with it," Johnson said. "If that's missing a couple more games, so be it. I'll wait on him."

Even though he won't have appeared in any actual games in more than two weeks, Zimmerman probably won't need to go on a brief rehab assignment with one of the Nationals' minor-league affiliates.

"Not for me, he doesn't," Johnson said. "I'll take him cold turkey."

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Strasburg plays catch, Nats say injury not in area of Tommy John surgery

Strasburg plays catch, Nats say injury not in area of Tommy John surgery

Just three days after Stephen Strasburg was placed on the disabled list with a sore right elbow, the Nats pitcher walked out to the right field at Nationals Park and played catch with a team trainer. He started close, then backed up to play long-toss.

That was a big step for Strasburg, who is on the DL for the second time this season. And, as it turns out, it was the second time already that he's played catch since the injury.

"It's coming out pretty easy. I asked him how he felt afterwards and he said he felt good, the ball was coming out pretty good," manager Dusty Baker said.

The Nationals remain confident that Strasburg's elbow is structurally sound. They now say his soreness isn't even in the same spot where his Tommy John surgery was performed in 2010.

“He knows how he feels. Doctors have poked and prodded and given them every test almost that there is. It’s not in the same area," Baker said.

Strasburg is making progress, but the Nationals still don't know when he will take the next step in his rehab, presumably when he will get on a mound to throw a bullpen session. It's encouraging that he's been throwing, but his timeline to return is still very much in limbo.

“How much time do you give him? You give him enough time for him to feel right. If he’s not right then we got to go with another option," Baker said.

[RELATED: Olympian Katie Ledecky visits Nats Park, players enthralled with medals]

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Nats' Joe Ross making quick progress, may start rehab assignment soon

Nats' Joe Ross making quick progress, may start rehab assignment soon

On Monday in Baltimore, the Nationals had what seemed at the time like bleak news to share about Joe Ross, that time was running out for him to do a minor league rehab assignment, that he may have to instead return out of their bullpen to build his innings up. He hadn't thrown a bullpen session yet and the minor league regular season schedule was running out.

Then, on Tuesday, he threw a bullpen session, finally for the first time since he was pulled from his original minor league rehab stint on Aug. 5. Then, on Thursday he threw another, this time under the watchful eye of manager Dusty Baker, who now believes Ross may, in fact, be ready to go join one of their affiliates very soon.

How about that for a turn of events? Ross and the Nats have done nearly a complete 180, but it has him now heading in the right direction and the team will certainly take it.

"He threw quite a while. I could just tell by the expression on his face that he was feeling pretty good," Baker said. "He's been working tirelessly. Boy, we've missed him when he's been out."

When and where Ross pitches next will be determined by how he feels on Friday, how his right shoulder responds to the second bullpen session. He has been out since July 3 with shoulder inflammation.

He pitched twice in the minors - once for Hagerstown and once for Syracuse - but couldn't shake the discomfort in his shoulder. His velocity remained lower than it should be and Ross could tell something was wrong.

Ross said he felt great after Tuesday's bullpen and feels that this time is different. Baker himself is encouraged by the young right-hander's progress.

"It's coming out pretty easy. I asked him how he felt afterwards and he said he felt good, the ball was coming out pretty good," he said.

Baker is ready to get Ross back as soon as possible, knowing how much his rotation has been hurt by his absence.

"When he was in, we had one of the best rotations in baseball one through five. Then, in Joe's absence, we've tried a number of guys there with some success and some not so successful. It's put some pressure on the bullpen and it'd be nice to get Joe back," he said.

[RELATED: Olympian Katie Ledecky visits Nats Park, players enthralled with medals]

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Baker thrilled to have Rzepczynksi, who takes Lopez' spot on Nats' roster

Baker thrilled to have Rzepczynksi, who takes Lopez' spot on Nats' roster

New Nats reliever Marc Rzepczynksi arrived at Dulles Airport on Thursday afternoon, and beat the traffic to Nationals Park just in time for the series finale against the Baltimore Orioles. The Nationals cleared a spot on their roster to activate him by optioning pitcher Reynaldo Lopez to Triple-A Syracuse. More on Lopez in a bit.

In Rzepczynksi, the Nats get an immediate boost to their bullpen, a lefty reliever with eight years of MLB experience. With Sammy Solis on the disabled list and Oliver Perez nursing a stiff back, Rzepczynksi zooms up the depth chart as a quick fix for their lefty woes.

"I think it was a necessary move because we only had one left-hander. Especially, with Solis down, we were hoping we could get some reinforcements on the left side. His stats and his track record looks very good and I think he can help us," manager Dusty Baker said.

One thing Baker is especially excited about is Rzepczynksi's ability to induce groundballs. Among MLB relievers with at least 30 innings pitched, he's second to only Orioles closer Zach Britton in groundball percentage. 

"It's always a plus when you can induce groundballs because you get a chance to turn double plays, you get a chance to get out of trouble," Baker explained. "Now I've got one that's one of the best at inducing groundballs in [Blake] Treinen and now I've got one on the left side. You can always use those guys. It's a welcome sight and a welcome addition. Once we get Solis back, then we'll have three of them."

For Lopez, he heads back to the minors after getting shelled for six runs - four earned - in just 2 2/3 innings against the Orioles on Monday. He was set to pitch again on Sunday against the Rockies, but has now left an opening in the starting rotation. That would appear to be a good sign for Lucas Giolito, who is also lined up to pitch this weekend at Syracuse.

[RELATED: Trea Turner ties franchise mark with hits in consecutive plate appearances]

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