Stephen Strasburg is no longer feeling the nerve pain in his right hand that prevented him from making his first two scheduled starts of the season, and the Nationals are planning for the veteran right-hander to throw off a mound this weekend and then potentially make his 2020 debut shortly after that.
Strasburg, sidelined with what he referred to as a nerve impingement in his right wrist, has thrown off flat ground each of the last two days with no issues, according to manager Davey Martinez. After throwing only fastballs Wednesday, he was set to throw off-speed pitches before today’s series finale against the Blue Jays.
If that went well, Strasburg’s next step would be to throw off the bullpen mound in the next day or two.
“He’s in a good spot right now,” Martinez said during today’s pregame Zoom session with reporters. “He’s not feeling that little nerve issue anymore. So hopefully we can get through this and he throws better today and we can get him out on the mound soon.”
A pitcher who misses two starts might normally need to face live hitters before pitching in an actual game, but Martinez said that might not be necessary in Strasburg’s case. Even if he does need or want to face hitters, there should be an opportunity over the next several days for him to do that, since the team’s weekend series with the Marlins was postponed and they are left to schedule simulated games until their next scheduled actual game Tuesday against the Mets.
“But we’ll see when that time comes,” Martinez said.
The four-day hiatus - Martinez is calling it a “mini All-Star break” - will allow the Nationals to reset their entire rotation. For example, Max Scherzer could start Tuesday on extra rest yet technically have started two of the team’s last three games.
By the time they return to action next week, the Nats expect to finally have Juan Soto in their lineup for the first time in 2020. Soto, who on Wednesday was cleared by Major League Baseball to return, is expected to be cleared by the D.C. Department of Health on Saturday, which would be 10 days after he received results of his one and only positive test for COVID-19.
If that timeline comes to fruition, Soto would be able to spend a couple days working out and getting at-bats in simulated games before making his season debut Tuesday against the Mets.
The unexpected weekend off also gives Howie Kendrick more time to recover from a stiff upper back that has kept him out of the lineup the last two days. The veteran hitter did not appear off the bench during Wednesday night’s win, though Martinez again suggested he could be used today in the right situation.
“He feels a little bit better today,” the manager said. “So we thought it would be smart if we could just plop him (into the lineup) when we need him today, if he’s available, it would be great.”
Asdrúbal Cabrera is starting at first base this afternoon after serving as designated hitter on Wednesday. Martinez said the veteran infielder took a foul ball off his foot a few days ago and has a sore toe, which explains why he hasn’t been at third base the last two days. Carter Kieboom makes his second straight start at the hot corner today.
Josh Harrison, meanwhile, makes his Nationals debut as today’s DH, three days after the veteran utilityman officially signed with the club. Martinez didn’t want to rush the 33-year-old into the lineup immediately upon his arrival.
“I wanted him to get going a little bit. He had some time off,” Martinez said. “He’s been doing a lot of stuff, taking ground balls, taking fly balls. Today he’s going to DH. He’s swinging the bat well in BP. So give him an opportunity to get some at-bats today.”
Lastly, reliever Wander Suero continues to build him arm up at the club’s alternate training site in Fredericksburg after missing most of summer training for undisclosed reasons. The right-hander is still trying to improve his fastball velocity, which according to Martinez was only 88-89 mph the most recent time he threw.