Saturday night, Strasburg pitched five perfect innings at Class AAA Syracuse before allowing two runners to reach base in the sixth inning. In five rehab starts, spread out across three affiliates, Strasburg has allowed eight earned runs in 14 1/3 innings, striking out 25 and walking three while consistently throwing his fastball in the high-90s and his breaking ball with a sharp bit.

Strasburg will likely join the Nationals after his start Thursday, not only because he has proved himself and his reconstructed right elbow ready, but also because there will be nowhere else for him to pitch competitively. The minor league regular season ends Sept. 5.

Strasburg will be making his first start this year in Harrisburg, the affiliate with which he began his professional career. Strasburg, the 2009 first overall pick, will briefly be teammates with 2010 first overall choice Bryce Harper. However, Harper will likely still be sidelined by a strained hamstring. The Nationals are taking a day-by-day approach to Harper. He hopes to return for the postseason if the Senators, who lead their division by 4 ½ games and are on a seven-game win streak, make the playoffs.

If Strasburg remains on his every-fifth-day schedule, he would make his first major league start Sept. 6 at Nationals Park against the Los Angeles Dodgers, one year and three days after his surgery. That speculative start date would allow Strasburg to start Sept. 11 and 16, two other home dates for the Nationals.

Aside from Thursday in Harrisburg, the usual Strasburg caveat applies: The Nationals have given no public indication of when Strasburg will make his debut, so those dates should be considered an educated guess, not a guideline for when to buy tickets.

Also, Ivan Rodriguez will continue his rehab from a strained right oblique muscle Tuesday in Harrisburg. Rodriguez made his first minor league rehab appearance Sunday at Class A Potomac, going 1 for 3 with a home run.