Stephen Strasburg and Juan Soto each took another step toward returning to the Nationals roster prior to today’s game, Strasburg throwing off the bullpen mound for the first time since he landed on the 10-day injured list and Soto continuing to throw in right field to test out his strained left shoulder.
Both players are now eligible to be activated off the IL, but both still have additional steps they need to take before the club makes the move, especially in Strasburg’s case.
Strasburg, who went on the IL two weeks ago with right shoulder inflammation, had already spent several days throwing long toss of flat ground, building up to 200 feet. This morning he climbed the bullpen mound for the first time and threw pitches, an important sign of progress.
“I’m very encouraged,” manager Davey Martinez said during his Zoom session with reporters. “Obviously, we’ve still got some ways to go. It’s his first bullpen. We’ll see how he feels after today, and we’ll go from there.”
Strasburg still needs to build his arm back up, and he’ll need to pitch in multiple rehab starts for one or more of the Nationals’ minor league affiliates before he’s activated, so he likely remains several weeks away from a return.
Soto, meanwhile, appears to be closer to rejoining the Nats lineup after today’s throwing session with two trainers in the outfield at Nationals Park. The 22-year-old slugger, out since April 20 with a shoulder strain, needs to show he can throw to bases and cutoff men without risking further damage to the shoulder. He’s been able to hit throughout his stint on the IL.
Once Soto is cleared to return, the Nationals face a roster dilemma. Yadiel Hernandez was recalled from the now-defunct alternate training site in Fredericksburg to fill the vacancy when Soto went on the IL. All the 33-year-old rookie has done is bat .400 (10-for-25) with a 1.008 OPS and take over as the starting right fielder and No. 3 hitter.
Obviously, there won’t be a starting job for Hernandez anymore once Soto returns, but could the Nats find a spot for him on the bench alongside fellow left-handed outfielder Andrew Stevenson?
“Until we get Soto back, which is hopefully soon, we’ve got decisions to make, obviously,” Martinez said. “What I like right now is, he’s getting a chance to play. I mean, he’s batting third in our lineup and is doing really well. Hopefully, he continues to swing the bat for us and help us win ballgames right now. (General manager Mike Rizzo) and I have to sit down when the time comes and make a decision how we can best utilize him and keep him going. For right now, though, he’s getting an opportunity to play pretty much every day, and he’s doing well.”