Strasburg, Ross to begin five-day pitching schedule

Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross are ready to shift into a regular, five-day pitching routine that could prepare them to join the Nationals’ rotation sometime next month after completing their latest simulated games with no issues.

Strasburg, who is recovering from last summer’s thoracic outlet surgery, and Ross, who is recovering from March’s surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow, each tossed two innings during a simulated game Friday in West Palm Beach, Fla. Strasburg threw 27 pitches, reaching 92 mph with his fastball, according to manager Davey Martinez. Ross threw 33 pitches, topping out at 95 mph.

“They’re feeling really good,” Martinez said. “We hope that continues.”

This session came four days after both right-handers pitched their first simulated games at the club’s spring training complex. They’ll now shift to a standard, five-game schedule between outings, further evidence they are transitioning from rehab mode to preparation mode.

Both Strasburg and Ross still need time to build their arms back up. They’re essentially now treating this final stage of rehab as if they were in spring training, with no significant restrictions due to their prior injuries.

“We’re definitely going to keep an eye on both of them, but for right now if things keep progressing the way it is, it’s almost like a spring training buildup,” Martinez said. “For us, that’s great news. If they can (pitch) every five days, hopefully six or seven starts and then we’ll see where they’re at.”

Once the Nationals determine they’re ready, Strasburg and Ross will be sent out on minor league rehab assignments with one of the organization’s affiliates. Pitchers are allowed up to 30 days on a rehab assignment before they must either be activated off the injured list or be shut down again due to injury.

That would seem to put Strasburg and Ross on a timeline that has each ready to join the Nationals’ rotation sometime in early-to-mid June, provided no setbacks along the way. At that point, the club’s decision makers will have to decide which current members of the rotation will lose their jobs in favor of the returning veterans.

“As we get closer, we’ll start seeing how this all plays out,” Martinez said. “But for right now, we’ve got to focus on today, and worry about who’s pitching today. Things change in (a month). We’ll just focus on what we need to do today, to win today.”

Alcides Escobar is not in tonight’s lineup, returning to the bench only one day after making his first start at shortstop all week due to an infection in his left index finger.

Escobar played Friday night and made a couple of nifty plays in the field that drew Martinez’s attention. But he also went 0-for-4 with a strikeout, and the manager saw evidence he wasn’t 100 percent healthy yet.

Thus, Dee Strange-Gordon will start at shortstop tonight for the fourth time in five games this homestand.

“He took a couple swings yesterday where I saw him kind of cringe a little bit,” Martinez said of Escobar. “He said his finger was sore today. So it was a good opportunity to get Dee Gordon in there again today. But if he feels better tomorrow, he’ll be back in there.”

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