Nats want one more tune-up for Strasburg before his return

Stephen Strasburg is close to rejoining the Nationals rotation, but first the club needs their rehabbing right-hander to build up his innings and pitch count one more time.

They just need to figure out where and when that final tune-up will take place.

Thumbnail image for Strasburg-Throws-Front-Gray-Sidebar.jpgStrasburg, who has already pitched in two simulated games at Nationals Park, was scheduled to throw a bullpen session this morning before the team’s series finale against the Phillies. His next turn to start would come Sunday, but it hasn’t been decided yet whether that start will come in another simulated game or in an official minor league rehab assignment for Triple-A Rochester.

“We won’t activate him until he gets through another round,” manager Davey Martinez said in his pregame Zoom session with reporters, “whether he’s going to go to the minor leagues or a sim game.”

Typically, teams would want big league starters to pitch in a real minor league game. But the process for rehab assignments is different this year than it was in the pre-pandemic world. Because only Triple-A players and staffers are part of the same Tier 1 protocols everyone with the major league club falls under, all rehab assignments must take place at that level.

Under the old rules, it would be simple for Strasburg (on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation since April 18) to make the short drive to Fredericksburg and pitch for the high Single-A FredNats on Sunday afternoon against Delmarva. But unless a special waiver is granted, Strasburg would only be able to pitch for Rochester, which is scheduled to play at Buffalo on Sunday.

If they choose not to go the rehab route, the Nationals could instead bring Strasburg with them to Arizona tonight and have him throw another simulated game Sunday morning at Chase Field prior to their series finale against the Diamondbacks.

Wherever he ends up getting his work done, Strasburg will need to build up to at least five innings and 75 or 80 pitches. He topped out at four innings and 62 pitches in his most recent simulated game.

“When he comes back, I want him to get through at least six innings before making the decision what he wants to do,” Martinez said. “He’ll throw a bullpen today, and then we’ll talk to him after and see how he’s feeling.”

Once Strasburg is activated off the IL, the Nationals will need to figure out how to proceed with their rotation. Erick Fedde is the most likely candidate to lose his spot, but because he’s out of minor league options he would probably need to be moved to the bullpen.

For now, the Nats will proceed in Arizona with Max Scherzer, Joe Ross and Fedde taking the mound for each game of this weekend’s series.

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