Updated at 5:51 p.m.
Ryan Zimmerman's long road back from a broken thumb suddenly looks a lot shorter.
Zimmerman will begin a rehab assignment with Class A Potomac tonight, batting third and serving as designated hitter at Pfitzner Stadium, his first game appearance in nearly seven weeks.
Out since fracturing his right thumb April 12 in Atlanta, Zimmerman was only cleared to resume baseball activities three days ago and took his first full round of batting practice Wednesday. He impressed during that session, though, blasting several home runs deep into the Red Porch seating area in left-center field and another one over the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field.
Club officials determined Zimmerman is ready to start facing live pitching, so he'll get a chance to receive multiple at-bats tonight for Potomac, which hosts Salem at 7:05 p.m.
"He's got to get some at-bats," manager Matt Williams said. "He hasn't hit live. The field BP was great the other day. He did it again yesterday. ... The good thing is that he was able to do a lot of things, even when it was still broken. So it's not like he's got to really get back into running shape. He's been doing that. So it's a question of his timing and feeling good at the plate and seeing some live pitching."
Assuming all goes well tonight, Zimmerman should be able to ramp things up quickly over the rest of the weekend. At some point, he'll play in the field, likely seeing time at third base, first base and left field as the Nationals prepare for the possibility of the veteran bouncing around between positions once he returns.
"There may be games where he does a little bit of outfield, comes back and plays third for a couple innings, goes to first for a couple innings, so he can get them all done," Williams said. "The key for him, though, is get his timing at the plate."
So, how long will that take? Williams suggested that he and other members of the coaching staff and front office might use Monday's off-day for the Nationals as an opportunity to go to Woodbridge and watch Zimmerman in person. If they like what they see, perhaps he'll be activated off the DL in time for Tuesday's series opener against the Phillies.
"It's possible," Williams said. "That's awfully early, though. That's very early. That's just a few games. Being off that long, it's difficult. But we'll see how he looks."