Stephen Strasburg could start a rehab assignment in the next week to 10 days, manager Davey Johnson said before today's game, and be on track to return to the Nationals in September. And while things are far from certain, it looks likely he could be back in the majors by the early part of that month.
Single-A Hagerstown is home from Friday-Monday, at which point Single-A Potomac comes home for the rest of the week. If Strasburg starts this weekend at Hagerstown, he'd have about a month before the minor league season ends on Sept. 5.
At that point, the Nationals would likely bring him back to the majors to finish the year. And it appears likely he could take the spot in the rotation that will be vacated by Jordan Zimmermann later this month when he hits his limit of 160 innings.
Johnson said he wants to keep Strasburg on Zimmermann's day to make the transition easy. Zimmermann has about four more starts before he'll run out of innings, though Johnson sounded reluctant about losing his best starting pitcher yesterday. "He might be in the best shape of anybody I've got on my staff," Johnson said.
Assuming general manager Mike Rizzo doesn't budge on Zimmermann's innings limit, though, the right-hander would likely make his last start on Aug. 22 against Arizona. That would leave the Nationals to fill a spot a couple times through the rotation before Strasburg would be ready (they'll likely keep him in the minors until the end of the minor league season), but they have other pitching prospects they want to see, like Tom Milone and Brad Peacock, so they shouldn't have any trouble covering the starts.
So when will Strasburg make his debut? I'm not terribly interested in playing the game again, like we did last year, but I'll say this: If you're interested in seeing his first pitches in the minors, you can probably buy up a block of tickets on any of the possible dates at Hagerstown and still have part of a $100 bill left.
And as far as his first major league start goes, I predicted Sept. 9 against the Astros before the season. I'm reasonably confident at this point that pick will be within a day or two of his return.