Stephen Strasburg pitches during his debut in June 2010. (JONATHAN NEWTON)

I see Stephen Strasburg pitched a simulated game Monday and is on target to maybe, just maybe, throw a non-simulated game for the Washington Nationals in September.

A few years ago, I would have thrown in a joke about all the Nats’ games being simulated, but no more. The Nats have reached respectability. My disdain for predictions aside, I forecast a finish of a few games over .500, and they might reach that — with or without Strasburg.

Not long ago, I’d have argued to give Strasburg the Garbo treatment until spring training 2012 — in other words, leave him alone. But I’ve changed my mind. If his recovery continues, if he has no twinges or tingles or tweaks, then go ahead and get him out there.

This has nothing to do with the Nats possibly being in contention — let’s be realistic — or even making it to .500. The club’s decision should have nothing to do with the standings and everything to do with Strasburg’s development and making the most of his opportunities before the season ends.

If Strasburg doesn’t pitch in September, come spring, he’ll have gone nearly a year and a half without throwing against major league hitting. That’s too long. That’s Chien-Ming Wang long.

Jordan Zimmermann, recovering from the same Tommy John surgery that Strasburg underwent last year, was away from the majors for 13 months. When he came back last August, he pitched in seven games for a total of 31 innings — not a lot, but it gave him a jump-start on the 2011 season.

The Nats will use Zimmermann’s progress as a blueprint, no question, and if Strasburg pitched in September, it would be about 13 months since his last big league appearance. The Nats’ handling of Zimmermann is also notable because, next to Strasburg’s arm, Zimmermann’s is probably the one they value the most.

During a media scrum with Mike Rizzo early this season, someone mentioned that Strasburg had said he was ready to throw off the mound. The general manager’s eyes narrowed, and he answered succinctly: “He’ll throw from the mound when we think he’s ready.”

Rizzo and the Nats organization know the difficulty with a guy such as Strasburg isn’t forcing him to go before he’s ready; it’s keeping him from going until they’re sure he’s ready.

If he pitches in September, it won’t be because he says he feels great but because the club believes him when he says it. And that they see it in his mechanics and the condition of his arm the next day, and a million other things. You can be sure he’s undergoing more observation and testing than a pre-flight astronaut. (Remember astronauts?)

Strasburg’s not ready for seven outings, or to go six innings, either. Two or three starts would be plenty. Limit his innings and his pitches.

But if he’s ready, get him back out there — not to sell tickets, not to rush him for the club’s sake, but to let him feel the game again before he heads home for yet another winter of discontent, waiting to resume what he and the Nats still hope will be a brilliant career.