ST. LOUIS - If Stephen Strasburg recovers from today’s simulated game against Nationals teammates with no lingering issues, the right-hander could make his return to the active roster as soon as Tuesday to face the Phillies in Washington, D.C.
Though Davey Martinez had previously said the plan for Strasburg, out since July 20 with a pinched nerve in his neck, included a minor league rehab start, today’s 70-pitch session may have convinced club officials to speed up the process and get the right-hander back on the mound in a big league game as soon as possible.
“We’re hoping that he can be ready,” the manager said. “But we have to see how he feels tomorrow.”
Strasburg threw the equivalent of four simulated innings against teammates Matt Adams, Spencer Kieboom and Wilmer Difo, and emerged from the session encouraged not only by how he felt but how he threw.
“Felt good,” he said. “Everything was progressing well.”
Strasburg, like most pitchers rehabbing from an arm injury, would face opposing hitters in a minor league game before coming off the disabled list. But given the fact he came close to that level of intensity in today’s simulated game, and given the urgency the Nationals now face trailing their division by eight games with only 42 to play, there’s real motivation to speed up the process.
The right-hander has watched from the dugout as the Nats have gone 12-12 since the All-Star break, stuck in neutral and unable to win close games. Thus creates a duel in his own mind: do whatever is necessary to get back out there and pitch for his team, or stick with the program that ensures he’ll be 100 percent ready to return?
“I think you’ve just got to listen to your doctor,” he said. “I was here (for the games the Nationals lost). There’s no guarantee that I would be contributing. 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 what it’s going to be.”
The Nationals don’t need to make that decision quite yet. They’re tentatively scheduled to send Max Scherzer, Tommy Milone and Gio Gonzalez to the mound this weekend against the Marlins before they get a day off in advance of a key three-game series with the Phillies.
Strasburg will throw a side bullpen session later this week in preparation for his next appearance. The only question is whether that appearance will come in D.C. or in a minor league town.
“We’ll see how he feels, and I’ll have a conversation with him tomorrow,” Martinez said. “But he looked good. The ball was coming out really, really well.”
Strasburg wasn’t alone on the mound at Busch Stadium today. Erick Fedde also threw his own version of a simulated game, throwing 50 pitches over three alternating innings with Strasburg.
Fedde, out since July 5 with right shoulder inflammation, said he was pleased with his session and is eyeing a return for the final month of the regular season. Because he was transferred to the 60-day DL, Fedde isn’t eligible to return until Sept. 3, but he said that gives him time to build himself up and make a couple of minor league starts first.
Whether there’s a need for Fedde in the rotation come September, Martinez said the club would still most likely view him as a starter and not a reliever whenever he returns to pitch.
Update: Jeremy Hellickson is up to his usual tricks tonight. He has retired nine of the 10 batters he has faced so far, though the one he failed to retire (Marcell Ozuna) crushed a home run to left field to lead off the bottom of the second. The Nationals, meanwhile, were getting no-hit by rookie Austin Gomber until Ryan Zimmerman singled up the middle in the top of the fourth. Combined with a pair of walks, the Nats loaded the bases with two outs. But Michael A. Taylor struck out on three pitches, swinging at the first and then taking the next two. So the Nationals trail 1-0 in the middle of the fourth.
Update II: Things got ugly in the bottom of the fifth. Real ugly. The Cardinals scored two runs via a double, an intentional walk, a wild pitch, an error by Spencer Kieboom and an RBI single by Yadier Molina in an at-bat started by Hellickson but finished by Wander Suero. How did that happen, you ask? Hellickson appeared to injure his right wrist on the wild pitch/Kieboom error. When he ran to cover the plate, he was taken out by Harrison Bader’s slide, and in trying to brace himself with his hand hurt himself in the process. Hellickson tried to take two warm-up tosses, but it didn’t go well, so Suero was brought in to replace him in mid-at-bat. The end result of all this: The Nats trail 3-0 after five, and now one of their reliable starting pitchers is hurt.