Rotation decision looms as Fedde returns, Strasburg gets closer

The Nationals get Erick Fedde and Kyle Finnegan back from the injured list tonight, surprisingly quicker than most expected in Fedde’s case. And at some point in the not-too-distant future, they believe they’ll get Stephen Strasburg back as well, the final and most significant return to a rotation that has needed some patching together through the season’s first half.

The Nats have been going without Strasburg and Fedde since June 24, when Fedde woke up with a strained oblique one day after pitching in Philadelphia. The right-hander, who had been enjoying the best prolonged stretch of his career, had thrown off a mound since but had not faced live hitters in the interim.

A minor league rehab start, or at least a simulated game against teammates, is usually a requirement for a starting pitcher to come off the 10-day IL. But in this case, the club felt Fedde was ready to be activated now because his time away was brief.

“We feel confident,” manager Davey Martinez said from San Diego tonight during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “He basically missed a start. And he was stretched out before that. His oblique felt good. He threw a real extensive bullpen. And we feel confident he’ll go out there and give us what he can.”

Fedde’s return to the rotation allowed the Nationals to give a couple veterans an extra day of rest before taking the mound for their final start of the first half. Patrick Corbin will be on the mound against the Padres on Wednesday night, with Max Scherzer in Thursday night’s series finale.

Espino-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgBeyond that, there is now a question. The Nats could stick with the rest of the rotation in order for this weekend’s series at the Giants (Paolo Espino, followed by Joe Ross and Jon Lester). Or they could skip over the struggling Lester’s turn and go back to Fedde on normal rest Sunday in San Francisco. Or they could bump Espino back to the bullpen and ask the versatile right-hander to pitch multiple times this week if needed.

“We’ve got a chance to shuffle things around,” Martinez said. “Paolo has done really well, believe me. I love what he’s done. He means a lot to this ballclub, whether it’s starting, whether he’s in the bullpen. We haven’t made any kind of decision as far as what we want to do. But he’s definitely going to help us win games here, I know that, regardless of what he’s doing.”

The bigger decision will come when Strasburg is ready to rejoin the rotation after his second IL stint of the season. The right-hander, out since June 2 with nerve irritation in his neck, threw a 60-pitch bullpen session Monday and played catch again today. His next significant step would seem to be a session throwing to live hitters in some capacity, and Martinez hinted that time is coming soon.

“We’re getting close,” the manager said. “I talked to him, and we want to make sure he’s ready. If it takes a few extra days, or a week or 10 days, whatever, we’re going to make sure he’s ready to go out and get him ready.”

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