Sean Burnett is making slow progress in his rehab from what manager Davey Johnson says is an inflamed nerve in his elbow, but it's progress nonetheless.
Burnett is scheduled to play catch Saturday and if all goes well in that session, he could be on track to return as early as Monday.
Johnson said that the elbow issue which Burnett has battled since prior to the All-Star break is just a nerve issue and nothing muscular, which is good news. Burnett told me yesterday that he was feeling better and is hoping that the combination of rest and new anti-inflammatory medicine will help him get back to action soon.
Burnett is being held out of action due to medical reasons, but John Lannan is being held out while the Nats decide how exactly to use him.
Johnson opted to effectively skip Lannan yesterday, which was set to be his normal turn to pitch. The Nationals' skipper had said he planned to have Lannan get his first start back in the rotation in the series at Atlanta Sept. 14-16, but off-days right before that series and immediately after it have caused Johnson to reconsider that plan.
What he might do now is have Lannan pitch in relief during the series against the Mets early next week, gearing him up for a possible outing against the Braves.
"I'll probably have him in the 'pen," Johnson said. "That'd probably be starting in the series against New York. That may be like a tune-up for a start."
Meanwhile, Jordan Zimmermann hasn't won a game since Aug. 9, but Davey Johnson thinks he knows why, and it doesn't have anything to do with Zimmermann not having enough arm strength late in the season. If anything, it's the opposite.
Zimmermann tends to struggle when he has more than a standard four days rest, Johnson says, because his stuff hangs too high in the zone and his slider doesn't have the downward movement it needs to keep hitters off-balance.
The numbers support Johnson's theory. In 14 starts where he's pitched on normal rest this season, Zimmermann has a 1.93 ERA. In 13 starts where he's had five or more days rest, Zimmermann has a 4.26 ERA.
"His times after he's been up in the zone or he's been jumping, they've usually come after he's had an extra day of rest, where he's stronger," Johnson said. "He's felt too strong. That's part of the learning process when you do get that, you need to still keep the same kind of rhythm and release and locating the ball. A pitcher doesn't feel the same way every time he goes out every five days.
"But part of pitching up here in 30-some starts, being able when you don't have your explosive fastball, that you locate it better or you use the breaking ball more to set up the fastball. That's part of the learning process."
Zimmermann is on his standard five days rest today, and you can bet the Nats will do what they can to ensure that stays the case for his starts the rest of this season, if it's possible to do so without juggling the entire rotation. That might be part of the reason why Lannan's schedule could be shuffled a bit while it initially appeared he'd definitely start in Atlanta.