Sean Burnett Alex Brandon/AP

Sean Burnett, one of the Nationals‘ most valuable and reliable relievers, played catch for the first time on Saturday since being held out of games for a week, and reported improvement in the pain in his throwing elbow.

Burnett last pitched on Sept. 2 against the St. Louis Cardinals but the Nationals decided following the rocky outing to rest the left-hander upon discovering he was suffering from nerve irritation in his left elbow.

After playing catch before Saturday’s game, Burnett said he is “feeling better.” That’s the biggest indicator for the Nationals: if his elbow hurts during minimal throwing and catching, that’s a bad sign. Burnett played catch again on Sunday. And if all goes well, he will throw a bullpen session on Monday in New York, and return to pitching in games if that goes off without a hitch.

Burnett has received treatment for the pain, taking anti-inflammatory medicine and resting. On the discomfort overall, Burnett said “it’s better.” No ligament damage has been discovered.

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, received treatment and his performance didn’t suffer. But his recent pain is a likely reason for his recent small slide over the past few weeks.

Burnett is enjoying a stellar season, his best since 2010. Despite a recent minor blip, he is second among Nationals relievers with a 2.49 ERA and has a 5.00 strikeout to walk ratio, a career high. He is a valuable setup man in the eighth inning, his sinker effective against both left-handed and right-handed batters. He is also an important reliever when the Nationals face the left-handed heavy Atlanta Braves in a three-game series beginning Friday.