Nearing his full return from Tommy John surgery and the end of his stay in Viera, Fla., Stephen Strasburg could make his first minor league rehab start within a week to 10 days, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said.
Strasburg’s start would come either at Class A Hagerstown or Class A Potomac, most likely Hagerstown. Johnson indicated it would come during a home game for the Nationals’ affiliate. Hagerstown will be at home Aug. 7 and 8 before leaving on a road trip, and Potomac will begin a seven-day homestand Aug. 8.
Strasburg has been throwing live batting practice and simulated games for a few weeks, most recently last Thursday, when he threw roughly 50 pitches over three innings. He has hit at least 95 miles per hour with his fastball and “he’s in great shape,” Johnson said.
Strasburg will pitch another simulated game, his last, Tuesday in Viera. This is speculative, but if he stays on his once-every-five-days schedule, Strasburg would make a rehab start next Sunday, when Hagerstown is home against Greensboro.
Johnson has said the Nationals believe Strasburg will return in early September, as long as he continues to progress at this rate. Last year, when he came back from Tommy John surgery, Jordan Zimmermann made his first minor league rehab start in Hagerstown on July 3 and appeared for the first time in the majors in late August.
Because minor league seasons end the first week of September, the Nationals will not have the option to leave Strasburg in the minors as long as they did with Zimmermann. But they will not rush Strasburg back to the majors until they deem him fully prepared. Strasburg underwent his surgery on Sept. 3 last year, and pitchers can return in a year’s time.
Johnson said he hopes to fit Strasburg into the rotation spot currently filled with Zimmermann, who will make four more starts before he hits the 160-inning limit the Nationals prescribed for him in his first full season following his recovery.
Strasburg replacing Zimmermann would continue their coincidental relationship. Last year, Zimmermann returned to the majors on the night the Nationals announced Strasburg would need surgery.
The Nationals have long desired to see Strasburg and Zimmermann form a 1-2 combination at the top of their rotation. They will still have to wait for it to happen, but the biggest obstacle — Strasburg’s healthy, successful return — is almost out of the way.