Stephen Strasburg’s next steps

Stephen Strasburg has started throwing to hitters in Florida, tossing 45 pitches on Tuesday, manager Davey Johnson said yesterday on 106.7 FM. That’s another significant step in the right-hander’s rehab from Tommy John surgery.

But in light of what general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters in Atlanta about Strasburg’s schedule, there are still several more hurdles to cross before last year’s rookie sensation is back in the majors.

The Nationals want Strasburg to throw 50 innings before he comes back to the big leagues, Rizzo said. If we do a little math - and use Jordan Zimmermann’s schedule from last year as a benchmark - that probably means Strasburg pitches in several simulated games in Florida before starting a rehab assignment. Zimmermann made 10 minor league starts last year, covering 39 2/3 innings across four levels (Single-A Hagerstown and Potomac, Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse) before returning to the majors on Aug. 26. That rehab assignment started July 3, just inside of 11 months since Zimmermann had surgery.

There will probably be a few tweaks in Strasburg’s schedule - and I’d assume the Nationals aren’t counting live batting practice toward that 50-inning quota - but if he starts a rehab assignment by the end of July, it’s reasonable to think he could squeeze a major league start in before the end of the season.

It’s probably not reasonable, though, to think he gets more than one or two outings in the majors this season. He’ll need somewhere to pitch after the minor league season ends in early September, but Harrisburg is on track to make the playoffs, and Strasburg could possibly pitch there before he’s ready to come to the majors.

We’re not about to get into the predict-the-date game that consumed so much space on this blog (and others) last season, but if Strasburg does appear in the majors this season, it’s more likely that it’ll be a cameo than a long-running engagement.