Stephen Strasburg is slated to start Friday night’s game against the Braves. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

The second half of the Washington Nationals’ season began with the return of franchise staples Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman, both of whom were activated from the disabled list Friday. Strasburg will start against the Atlanta Braves. Zimmerman, interestingly, will not.

Strasburg had been on the disabled list since June 9 with right shoulder inflammation, with the Nationals’ rotation owning the worst ERA in the majors (6.26) over that stretch. To that point, the Nationals had one of the top two ERAs in the National League. At the time of the injury, Strasburg figured he would not miss the rest of the season and that the injury would not linger. The veteran, who has spent most of his career learning how to manage himself and his body, was correct. Strasburg was pitching to a 3.46 ERA and striking out 10.6 batters per nine innings at the time of his injury.

Zimmerman has been out since early May with an oblique injury that some posited also might have included calf trouble. The first baseman has denied that suggestion and showed no signs of calf trouble as he worked on the field in recent weeks. He played three rehab games this week at Class A Potomac and Class AA Harrisburg, finishing 4 for 9 with a double, a homer and a strikeout.

The 33-year-old was hitting .217 at the time of his injury, and continued slow offensive stretches will lead to a somewhat awkward problem. Can Manager Dave Martinez justify playing Zimmerman over the left-handed Matt Adams, who is hitting .288 with 15 homers and a .927 on-base-plus-slugging percentage? Adams’s numbers drop dramatically against left-handed pitching, which makes using Zimmerman and Adams as a platoon a no-brainer. But Zimmerman has never been a platoon player, and sliding into that role would be a major demotion. Adding to the complication is the presence of Mark Reynolds, another veteran first baseman who has established himself as a reliable right-handed bench bat.

“He’s going to play. Matt Adams is pretty much killing right-handers right now, so he deserves to play,” said Martinez, who chose to play Adams on Friday night against Braves right-hander Anibal Sanchez. “I talked to Zim. He’s going to come off the bench today. When there’s a lefty in the game, we’ll pop him in there. Lefty tomorrow, so he’ll play, and we’ll go from there. But he gets it. We talked. He said however he can help the team in, he’s all in.”

The Nationals avoided making a decision on their bench Friday by optioning right-hander Wander Suero to Class AAA Syracuse instead of moving out Reynolds or outfielder Brian Goodwin. (Reliever Trevor Gott had been optioned before the all-star break, leaving one roster spot open.) The Nationals will have to make that decision eventually; they are carrying just six relievers in a bullpen whose main concern all season has been a heavy workload. Still, everyone will be fresh to begin this weekend after the four-day break, so the Nationals probably can afford a few days with a short bullpen. Closer Sean Doolittle, on the disabled list with foot trouble, probably will return any day now. When he does, the team will have to decide who goes to clear space, and it seems unlikely to be a pitcher.

Complications aside, Zimmerman’s return will be symbolic for a team hoping to reestablish itself in the second half. Strasburg will alter the complexion of the rotation entirely, as evidenced by the fact that it fell apart without him. For now, Zimmerman seems likely to ease back into regular duty.

“I think the last couple years we’ve signed a really good left-handed hitting guy to complement me over there. At the end of the day, it’s just about winning games,” Zimmerman said. “You guys know me. As long as we win games and doing what we need to do — if it’s me doing it, Matty’s doing it, Mark doing it, that’s kind of what it’s all about.”


Adam Eaton RF

Trea Turner SS

Bryce Harper CF

Anthony Rendon 3B

Juan Soto LF

Matt Adams 1B

Daniel Murphy 2B

Matt Wieters C

Stephen Strasburg P


Ronald Acuna Jr. LF

Ozzie Albies 2B

Freddie Freeman 1B

Nick Markakis RF

Kurt Suzuki C

Johan Camargo 3B

Ender Inciarte CF

Dansby Swanson SS

Anibal Sanchez P

More on the Nationals:

Players express concern about Dave Martinez’s handling of the pitching staff

Braves-Nationals series preview: The most important part of the season starts now

D.C. Sports Bog: All about Bryce Harper’s headband from the Home Run Derby