Ryan Zimmerman took another step toward his return from the disabled list today when the Nationals' third baseman hit 20 balls off a tee and emerged with no pain in his inflamed right shoulder.
Zimmerman will take more swing off soft-toss pitching tomorrow, then possible take a full round of batting practice before the Nationals' game against the Phillies.
Though he wouldn't entirely rule out the possibility of returning to play Sunday night once he's officially eligible, Zimmerman said he's more likely to come off the DL Tuesday for the start of a road trip in Pittsburgh.
"If I had to guess, Tuesday rather than Sunday," he said. "I wouldn't rule it out. We really won't know until tomorrow. ... After I hit, it's a matter of whether they want me to waste hits in the minor leagues or get hits in the big leagues."
Manager Davey Johnson made it clear Zimmerman won't be sent on a minor-league rehab assignment, not even for one day.
"We're not going to waste those bullets," Johnson said.
Zimmerman, who hasn't played since April 20, has been able to keep himself in shape by participating in conditioning and fielding drills. He played catch this afternoon from as far away as 200 feet.
"That helps, because I've been able to keep my arm in shape and my legs in shape," he said. "So the game's not going to be a problem. It'll be whenever I can hit, I can go."
The news isn't as encouraging on Adam LaRoche, who is out of the lineup for the second straight day with a sore right oblique muscle. The veteran first baseman, who hurt himself diving for a ball during Wednesday night's game, attempted to take some swings this afternoon and still felt a twinge in his side.
The Nationals aren't giving a formal timetable for LaRoche's return, but asked today if he thinks the first baseman will need to go on the DL, Johnson replied: "No ... I'm hoping he won't."