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Without Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals stay afloat

The Nationals today will play their ninth game of the season without Ryan Zimmerman in the starting lineup, which would have qualified as a nightmare scenario before the season began. No National creates more runs on offense or saves more on defense than Zimmerman. "He is," Manager Jim Riggleman said, "the ultimate baseball player."

But as Zimmerman eyes a return to the starting lineup in Chicago against the Cubs - he jogged and took batting practice today and said, "it's looking better and better each day - the Nationals have stayed afloat without him.

In games the Nationals have played without Zimmerman in the starting lineup, they are 4-4. (In one of those wins, of course, Zimmerman hit a pivotal pinch-hit home run.) In their four wins without Zimmerman starting, the Nationals have beat Johan Santana, J.A. Happ, Yovani Gallardo and Charlie Haeger, only one of whom does not possess a formidable track record.

The Nationals' relative success without Zimmerman shows their improved depth. They're sitting at 9-9 overall despite playing half the year without their best player. Of course, the day Zimmerman returns, the Nationals will be a much better team. But his loss has not been the disaster it may have been in the past.

"I think we all expected that," Zimmerman said. "I think we have a great team. We have good depth. All of us can play. Fortunately, when we lose people for a few games, we have people who are more than ready to step up.

"They've done a good job of bringing in guys who can play different positions. Rick [Eckstein] does a great job with everyone. When people get chances, they're ready."

One of them is Alberto Gonzalez, yesterday's third baseman. When he plays third this year, Gonzalez is 3 for 7 with a walk and two doubles while playing slick, error-free defense. Willie Harris and Adam Kennedy, each of whom has played at least three positions this year, have also filled in.

"We've got a lot of good athletes on the ballclub that get an opportunity when other people are banged up," Riggleman said. "They've handled it tremendously."

The best bet for Zimmerman's return seems to be Tuesday. Zimmerman remains a potential pinch hitter, which means he won't be placed on the disabled list. "I am anticipating being ready to play in Chicago," Riggleman said. But he likely won't be playing Monday, an expected chilly night game after a day of travel. Tuesday is a day game and it should be warmer.

At some point soon, Zimmerman will return. He'll come back to a team that managed to keep winning without their best player.

By Adam Kilgore  |  April 25, 2010; 1:25 PM ET
 
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Comments

I believe Tuesday's game is scheduled for 7:05 CDT. Wednesday is a day game, 1:20 Central.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | April 25, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

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