Strasburg, Herrera both could return for Phillies series

The Nationals could have both Stephen Strasburg and Kelvin Herrera back on their active pitching staff for next week’s series against the Phillies, though a final determination on each injured right-hander won’t be made until Sunday at the earliest.

Strasburg and Herrera each threw this afternoon at Nationals Park, and each appeared to emerge from the session in good shape.

Strasburg-Delivers-Red-Sidebar.jpgStrasburg threw more than 40 pitches in a bullpen session, a typical activity for him between starts. This came three days after he threw 70 pitches in a simulated game in St. Louis, and leaves him in position to start a game Tuesday. Now it’s simply a question of where that start will take place: in Washington against the Phillies, or in a minor league park for a rehab assignment.

“We’ll talk to him tomorrow,” manager Davey Martinez said. “We don’t know if it’s Tuesday here, or Tuesday in a rehab stint. We don’t know that. We’ll figure that out tomorrow.”

Strasburg has made only one major league start since June 8, battling first inflammation in his shoulder and then a pinched nerve in his neck that appears to have been the source of the shoulder problem. He has reported nothing but positive progress since receiving a nerve block injection July 26 in Los Angeles, but he hasn’t built up the kind of workload a starting pitcher typically would while rehabbing from an injury.

Given the Nationals’ situation at this stage of the season - they enter tonight trailing the Braves by seven games and the Phillies by 6 1/2 games in the National League East - the club may not be able to afford giving Strasburg more time. Provided he’s healthy, of course.

“There’s no guarantee that I would be contributing,” Strasburg said Wednesday when asked about the challenge of not rushing himself back to help the Nationals before they fall completely out of the pennant race. “I’d like to think I would be. But at this point, you have to do what you can to get healthy. Whatever the timetable is, that’s what it’s going to be.”

Herrera, meanwhile, did face live hitters in a brief simulated game this afternoon, the first time the reliever has done that since going on the disabled list on Aug. 8 with a rotator cuff impingement.

Herrera, who was facing teammates Wilmer Difo and Spencer Kieboom, threw only 15 pitches, the equivalent of one inning in a game. But given his role as a late-inning arm, that may be all he needs in order to come off the DL. Martinez suggested that could happen as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday.

“He was going to throw a bullpen today,” the manager said. “I wanted him to face a couple hitters, just to zone in a little bit and see where he’s at. And he came out of it really good. He said he felt good.”

One of the most effective closers in the majors at the time he was traded from the Royals in late-June, Herrera never really resembled that pitcher in his 19 appearances for the Nationals. His WHIP more than doubled (from 0.81 to 1.82) and his walk rate ballooned (from 0.7 per nine innings to 4.2).

The Nationals have reason to think the right-hander will revert back to his original form once he returns from this injury.

“I absolutely believe that, 100 percent,” Martinez said. “I saw the ball today; it was coming out hot. And it had a lot of action. Hopefully, this is behind him, and come Tuesday or Wednesday he’s ready to go.”

Herrera appears set to rejoin the bullpen before Sean Doolittle does. The left-hander, out since July 7 with a stress reaction in his left foot, threw off a mound again Friday. Martinez said that though Doolittle’s arm feels strong, his foot remains “a bit sore.”

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