The Nationals haven’t decided yet if Stephen Strasburg will come off the injured list this weekend, but the fact the right-hander has rejoined the club in Chicago offers a hint they’re hoping to do just that.
Fresh off a 75-pitch rehab start Sunday for Triple-A Rochester in Trenton, N.J., Strasburg flew to Chicago and will be with the Nationals for their four-game series against the Cubs. He’ll throw what manager Davey Martinez termed an “extended” bullpen session Tuesday afternoon, and that could be the final step in his return from right shoulder inflammation.
Strasburg will throw 50-55 pitches during that session in the Wrigley Field bullpen, working on mechanics and giving the coaching and medical staffs a chance to see him in person following Sunday’s minor league start.
Typically, Strasburg would go through that standard between-starts workout three days before taking the mound for a game. So that would seem to line him up to start Friday night against the Orioles at Nationals Park.
Asked during his pregame Zoom call if he’s optimistic about that happening, Martinez laughed and offered a response the eternally upbeat skipper may never have uttered before.
“I don’t want to be optimistic about anything right now,” he said. “I just want to make sure he’s completely healthy. So far, so good. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow, and we’ll go from there.”
Strasburg, who last started for the Nats on April 13 in St. Louis and was roughed up for eight runs in four innings with diminished velocity, seems to have passed every test necessary to return from the IL. He pitched in two simulated games in D.C., then made it through Sunday’s 4 1/3-inning rehab start for Rochester without allowing a run or experiencing any shoulder trouble.
If they determine Strasburg is ready to return, the Nationals do face a tricky decision in removing someone else from their rotation. Erick Fedde, the most likely candidate to be sent to the bullpen, tossed seven scoreless innings Sunday against the Diamondbacks in perhaps the best start of his career.
Joe Ross, meanwhile, is coming off a ragged outing in Arizona on Saturday night in which he gave up eight runs in four innings. Ross is scheduled to start Thursday afternoon’s series finale at Wrigley Field, but it’s possible the team could elect to keep Fedde in the rotation over him, or at least give Fedde one more start Saturday against Baltimore to see if he can deliver another quality performance before making the final decision.
Because both pitchers are out of options, the Nationals can’t send either Ross or Fedde (or starter-turned-reliever Austin Voth, for that matter) to the minors without placing them on waivers first and giving 29 other clubs an opportunity to claim them.