Are Nationals rushing Strasburg back too early?

There is some concern about the possibility that the Nationals might be rushing right-hander Stephen Strasburg back for tonight’s game. The reasoning is that an entire season of rehab might be a better answer, so he is not subjected to the possibility of re-injury or new injury.

After all, the Nationals are out of the race. There is no need to “chance” it.

But it is also very difficult to tell to a pitcher with the makeup of Strasburg that he has to sit this one out. It is like that calendar you set up at the beginning of the season and Tuesday, Sept. 6 is circled in red. This date has been motivating Strasburg since the beginning of his rehab from Tommy John surgery, some 368 days ago.

“It was my goal,” Strasburg said. “Besides that, I wanted to go into the offseason healthy. It looks like at this point, both are going to happen.”

And then there is the real-life case study in Jordan Zimmermann, who went through the exact same surgery two weeks prior to Strasburg’s calendar date for surgery just two years ago.

“Just watching what he has been able to do this year gives me a lot of confidence to be able to do that next year,” Strasburg said. “He has worked really hard. I am just trying to do the same thing. The bottom line with this surgery is it is almost down to a science and it is about the effort you put into the rehab.”

Watching Strasburg complete his side sessions and in the clubhouse, you see him check in with veterans like Collin Balester, John Lannan, Sean Burnett and Livan Hernandez. One such occasion, Hernandez came over and sat down with Strasburg by his locker and they spoke for several minutes.

“They are class acts,” Strasburg said. “They know how to go about the game the right way. Just watching them pitch and talking to them about little things (helps).”

But Strasburg knows now that this is not a rehab start against a minor league team. Tonight, he embarks on the next chapter of his career as Strasburg 2.0. And he knows he will have to bring it against the Dodgers. Just like he did that first night against the Pirates that electrifying June night in 2010.

“When you get to this level, they are all looking for every little thing to get an edge on you,” Strasburg said. “You really have to focus on what you do as a pitcher that makes you successful and stick with that.”

And really, the Nationals have been careful in Strasburg’s rehab. They will allow him to go just four innings tonight and monitor his progress and arm pitch bypitch.

The only way Strasburg and the Nationals can find out if he is really back to 2010 form is to pitch him in the major leagues. That test begins tonight.

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