Zimmerman back on IL with plantar fasciitis

Blazek, Stephenson join big league club; McGowin optioned to Minors

July 22nd, 2019

WASHINGTON -- It's the same book, different chapter for

After MRI results Monday morning showed that Zimmerman has a slight tear of his right plantar -- a band that connects the heel bone to the toes -- the Nationals placed the veteran first baseman on the 10-day injured list ahead of a 10-game homestand and four-game series against the Rockies.

“Now it’s just really pain tolerance,” said manager Dave Martinez. “It could go away really fast and come back, or it could take a while. Hopefully he gets through it and he can come back as soon as possible.”

Zimmerman heading to the shelf headlined one of five moves the Nationals made Monday afternoon. The club also selected the contract of right-handed reliever Michael Blazek from Triple-A Fresno to try to bolster the bullpen, and Washington called up Andrew Stevenson from Fresno to take Zimmerman’s spot on the active roster.

The Nationals also optioned reliever Kyle McGowin to Double-A Harrisburg and transferred reliever Justin Miller to the 60-day IL (right rotator cuff strain) in order to make room on the 40-man roster for Blazek.

Zimmerman was removed from Sunday night’s loss to the Braves after legging out an infield single in the second inning. He was replaced by Matt Adams, who will take over the bulk of duties at first base, with Howie Kendrick and Gerardo Parra serving as options for backups.

The Nationals opted for Stevenson, an outfielder, to replace Zimmerman in order to give them another left-handed bat off the bench with Adams slotting back into the starting lineup. Stevenson has impressed lately with Fresno, batting .340/.389/.512 before his callup.

Stevenson, 25, has appeared in nine games at the Major League level this season in two stints: once as part of the Opening Day roster and another time for three games at the beginning of May. He was primarily used as a pinch-hitter in 2018, batting .253/.306/.320 in 75 at-bats across 57 games.

“As we saw last year, his pinch-hitting for us was really good,” Martinez said. “I think it has a lot to do with his confidence. He’s been playing really well. They’ve said he’s been playing really well in the outfield, really putting at-bats together.”

This is now Zimmerman’s second bout with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. The first kept him sidelined 81 games, from April 27 to June 28, and he batted .302/.326/.419 with five doubles and four RBIs over 11 contests since returning from the injured list.

Martinez was reticent to say just how quickly the club can expect Zimmerman back, because it seems it’s something that can change every few days.

“It all depends on how quickly he heals, really,” Martinez said.

Blazek joins bullpen in need
While bullpen woes have become less of a talking point during the Nationals’ recent surge, that seems to be lessening now, as the relief corps has taken the loss in three of the past seven games.

Martinez hopes that selecting the contract of the 30-year-old Blazek can bring some experience and a steady hand to the bullpen. Blazek joins the 25-man roster carrying a 5.54 ERA in 23 games with Fresno this season. But he’s seemingly turned a corner as of late, allowing just two runs in his last 10 1/3 innings. Blazek's upside lies in his strikeout-to-walk ratio, which hovers around 2 in both his Major League and Minor League career.

“Excited this year we ended up signing him,” Martinez said. “Good curveball, good slider, mixing in the changeups. We thought right now would be a good time to get him while he’s pitching really well.”

Martinez says he eyes Blazek as a sixth- or seventh-inning guy, especially given his experience pitching in such situations during his last Major League stint as a member of the Brewers in 2017. Martinez, a bench coach for the Cubs at the time, got to know Blazek well at the time.

Blazek was injured for most of 2018, and he was fighting for another opportunity until the Nationals signed him in May. He said he’s reinvented himself from his '17 self, given how much the game of baseball has changed in just one year.

“For me this year, it was just showing everyone that I can still do it,” Blazek said, “and hopefully I can.”

From the trainer’s room
Moving Miller to the 60-day IL was done in hope to build back up his arm strength and velocity. Miller is rehabbing at the Nationals’ facilities in West Palm Beach, Fla., after making five rehab appearances with Harrisburg earlier this month, where he allowed two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.

• Jeremy Hellickson (right shoulder strain) is with the team in D.C. and is on a throwing program, but his return is not imminent at the moment.

• Austin Voth (right bicep tendinitis) is throwing in D.C. as well. Martinez said Voth is working to build up arm strength.