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Opening Day lineup expected to include Zim

Nats' first baseman appeared in just one Grapefruit League game
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- Ryan Zimmerman is perfectly healthy, Nationals manager Dave Martinez insists. Martinez said he saw the first baseman running the bases the other day, and Zimmerman will be ready to go for Opening Day on Friday.

But Zimmerman didn't start in Washington's exhibition against the Twins on Tuesday at Nationals Park, despite Martinez saying earlier in the week that the veteran might play in the spring finale.

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WASHINGTON -- Ryan Zimmerman is perfectly healthy, Nationals manager Dave Martinez insists. Martinez said he saw the first baseman running the bases the other day, and Zimmerman will be ready to go for Opening Day on Friday.

But Zimmerman didn't start in Washington's exhibition against the Twins on Tuesday at Nationals Park, despite Martinez saying earlier in the week that the veteran might play in the spring finale.

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"He made a comment, telling me this is the best spring he's had and he feels great," Martinez said. Matt Adams started at first base Tuesday.

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Opening Day in Cincinnati for the Reds and Nationals was originally scheduled for Thursday at Great American Ballpark, but it was postponed until Friday due to impending inclement weather.

Zimmerman's absence has been a hot story this spring. Zimmerman, who played in just one Grapefruit League game, has denied any sort of injury, instead opting for at-bats during Minor League games and fielding drills with first-base coach Tim Bogar.

The idea behind the strategy is Zimmerman, who played in an average of 90 games per season from 2014-16 because of nagging injuries, will be better rested for the grind of the 162-game season.

Zimmerman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, hitting .303 with 36 homers and 108 RBIs. The Nationals want that kind of production out of the 33-year-old again this season.

"We're looking forward to getting him on the field Opening Day. We asked him how he was feeling. He said he feels great. We asked him if he wanted to get some at-bats [Tuesday]. He said he wants to stick to the game plan," Martinez said.

Injury notes

Washington placed right-hander Joaquin Benoit (right forearm strain) on the 10-day disabled list and right-hander Koda Glover (right shoulder tendinitis) on the 60-day disabled list Tuesday. Martinez didn't offer a timetable on Glover's path to a return.

Video: Martinez discusses Benoit's forearm injury

Solis impresses

The Nationals' bullpen had mixed production Tuesday after starter Gio Gonzalez left following the third inning. Though right-hander Trevor Gott allowed the Twins to break a 1-1 tie by surrendering two runs in the ninth, right-hander Brandon Kintzler and left handers Sean Doolittle, Sammy Solis and Matt Grace each tossed scoreless innings.

Martinez was particularly impressed with Solis.

"He's very confident coming into the season," Martinez said. "He's a big part of that bullpen and we need him. And he knows that. He'll pitch some big moments for us."

Gonzalez sharp in spring finale

Gonzalez hurled three scoreless innings in his final start before the regular season, though he conceded he felt like he was "rushing at times" against the Twins.

The left-hander allowed a single to Minnesota second baseman Brian Dozier on his second pitch of the outing, before walking third baseman Miguel Sano two batters later. Gonzalez got out of the frame unscathed and didn't allow a baserunner the rest of the way.

"I felt fine going after hitters," said Gonzalez, who recorded two strikeouts and one walk.

Gonzalez spoke glowingly of backup catcher Miguel Montero, who attended camp as a non-roster invitee and earned a roster spot, complimenting the 34-year-old's assertiveness and smarts behind the plate.

"He's seeing things hitters are doing, so that plays a big role," Gonzalez said of Montero.

 Eight-man bullpen

To be sure, the Nationals' bullpen is in a much better state now than it was a year ago, with a clearly defined closer in Sean Doolittle and a pair of reliable setup men in Ryan Madson and Kintzler.

Video: Outlook: Doolittle can be elite closer if healthy

But Martinez is intent of preserving his pitchers for the long haul. Washington's goal is to play deep into October. That's why the Nationals elected to option infielders Adrian Sanchez and Matt Reynolds to Triple-A Syracuse, clearing the way for the team to start the season with an eight-man bullpen.

"It's about not beating up the bullpen early," Martinez said. "If you look at our lineup, there's not many guys you're going to pinch-hit for, so having an extra arm in the bullpen made sense to all of us."

Right-hander Trevor Gott and left-handers Enny Romero and Grace, who were all competing for roster spots, made the 25-man roster. Lefty Sammy Solis and righty Shawn Kelley round out the Nats' 'pen, though Martinez was quick to point out the roster composition could change throughout the season.

"Opening Day is only one day," he said. "Things change throughout the course of a week, two weeks, three weeks, whatever. But for right now, we like the way we've constructed our team."

Joshua Needelman is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.

Washington Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman