(Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Nationals received initial hope Tuesday that their largest source of stress this spring – the inflammation in newly acquired right-hander Doug Fister’s pitching elbow – will not linger into the regular season.

Fister played catch for the first time March 2, when he felt tightness in his elbow and underwent an MRI exam that showed no structural damage. He will continue to rebuild his arm strength and if all goes to plan, Manager Matt Williams said, will be able to take his first regular season turn in the Nationals’ rotation.

“He felt good today,” Williams said.

Fister will take Wednesday off from throwing, then play catch again from a further distance on flat ground Thursday. Fister would then throw one bullpen session and then rejoin the Nationals’ spring rotation.

“Time frame, not sure,” Williams said. “It depends on how he reacts after the next one. I think we’ll give him tomorrow, throw him the next day, see how he is there, get him in the bullpen.”

Generally speaking, however long a pitcher rests is how long he needs to rebuild his arm strength. Fister, then, would need about eight days to regain what he lost. By that point, less than two weeks from opening day, Fister will be throwing a couple innings while the rest of the Nationals will be throwing five or six innings.

Still, the Nationals believe Fister can get enough work in take his turn in the rotation once the year starts.

“I think that he’ll be fine,” Williams said. “He may not be able to get built up as much as other the guys. But nonetheless, he’ll be fine. He’ll be fine to start if we need him to start, if all goes to plan.”

The Nationals and Fister seemingly have enough time. Because of a day off the day after their season opener, the Nationals will not require a fifth starter until April 6, their sixth game of the season.

Williams said today that he would prefer to set his regular season rotation by March 18, an off day in the Grapefruit League schedule. In one scenario, if Fister starts March 19, he would be on schedule to make three more spring starts, including a March 27 exhibition at Nationals Park, coincidentally against Fister’s old team, the Tigers. Assuming he continues to stave off the inflammation, that should give him enough work to build his arm for a regular season start.