Sean Burnett (Alex Brandon/AP)

The nerve irritation that has sidelined valuable left-handed reliever Sean Burnett has subsided and, if all goes well, he is expected to throw and play catch on Saturday and could possibly return to pitching in a game as soon as Monday, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said.

Burnett hasn’t thrown since Sunday, after getting chased in the seventh inning in a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals and allowing two runs on three hits. Johnson discovered that Burnett sought treatment for discomfort in his elbow following the game. That, Johnson figured, was the cause of Burnett’s small recent slide in performance, and he decided to rest him.

Burnett’s irritation isn’t tied to any muscle nor has any ligament damage been discovered; it’s just “an inflamed nerve,” Johnson said. Burnett has been taking anti-inflammatory medicine over the past few days.

Burnett will play catch for a couple of days starting Saturday and, if nothing flares up, he could return for the series at the New York Mets beginning on Monday

Burnett, who had Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery in 2004, dealt with some tightness in the same elbow in mid-July. Burnett wasn’t placed on the disabled list then. He received treatment and his performance didn’t suffer.

Burnett is enjoying a stellar season, his best since 2010, another standout season. Despite a recent minor blip, he leads Nationals relievers with a 2.49 ERA and has a 5.00 strikeout to walk ratio, a career-high. He was on pace to set a career-high with 74 appearances but his innings total will be down. Burnett has appeared in 61 games and 50 2/3 innings. Despite some discomfort in his elbow this season, “he’s been awfully durable,” Johnson said.

Johnson said there’s no rush now to get Burnett back into action. He is confident in using left-handers Michael Gonzalez, Tom Gorzelanny or Zack Duke, a starter who is in the bullpen, to get left-handed batters out. Even John Lannan could be used out of the bullpen to face left-handed batters.

“That’s the luxury of pitchers going further and having a quality ‘pen,” Johnson said.

Lannan, the starter expected to slide into the rotation when Stephen Strasburg is shutdown soon, will stay on his regular schedule, throwing bullpen sessions. Johnson skipped using him on Tuesday, which would have been five days after his last Class AAA Syracuse start, to give him rest and could use him the next time day he is available on Sept. 9.

Johnson, however, had said he might want to shuffle his rotation so that Lannan can face the left-handed heavy Atlanta Braves during the Sept. 14-16 series.

“I don’t know for sure yet,” Johnson said. “I thought maybe the Atlanta series. But I didn’t look at all the days off before and after. It’s still in the works.”

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