MILWAUKEE – Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross are ready at last to pitch in games. Minor league games, to be sure, but that’s nonetheless a significant development for both Nationals right-handers as they move closer to making their 2022 major league debuts.
Strasburg and Ross will begin minor league rehab assignments Tuesday night, manager Davey Martinez revealed before today’s series finale against the Brewers. Strasburg will start for Single-A Fredericksburg, with Ross starting for Double-A Harrisburg.
Each hurler is scheduled to throw four innings and roughly 60 pitches in their first true game appearances following lengthy rehab stints at the Nationals’ spring training complex in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“Now they’re actually competing in a regular scenario,” Martinez said. “You can’t take them out after 15-16 pitches an inning. They have to go out there and compete, and they have to get outs. They’re going out there to help our affiliate teams win. I want them to understand that they’ve got to go out and compete and help those teams win.”
Strasburg has been out since thoracic outlet surgery last summer. Ross has been out since suffering a sprained elbow ligament last summer and then having a bone spur removed from that elbow this spring. Each has been on the 60-day injured list and rehabbing in Florida, slowly building up from bullpen sessions to live batting practice to simulated games, the most recent of which took place Thursday.
The Nationals aren’t setting any specific timetable for either to return to the active roster, but Martinez did say he’d like both to get to six innings and/or 90 pitches in a minor league game. That would suggest each is likely to make at least three rehab starts, if not four. Both are eligible to come off the 60-day IL on June 3, but at their current rate of progression it seems neither would be ready to debut until June 8 at the earliest.
Whenever they return, the Nats will face a potential dilemma with their rotation, needing to clear two spots. They’ll have to decide who from the current group gets bumped, whether to take advantage of the minor league options a rookie like Joan Adon has or whether to make a move with a struggling veteran like Aaron Sanchez, Patrick Corbin or Erick Fedde.
“For me, it’s still a ways away,” Martinez said. “It’s honestly a good problem to have, if we get Strasburg and Joe Ross back. We’ll have to make some tough decisions later on. But I want these guys to continue to compete. We’ve got some guys who are doing well, and I want them to continue to do that.”