DENVER — Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg threw a successful side session in Viera, Fla., Thursday morning and is officially on track to make his first rehab start Sunday afternoon with Single-A Hagerstown.
Strasburg, who passed the 11-month mark in his return from Tommy John surgery on Wednesday, will take a monumental step in his road back to the major leagues when he starts the 30-day minor league rehab assignment. The game Sunday is scheduled to start at 4:05 p.m.
If he stays on a five-day rotation, he will likely be pitching for a Nationals affiliate on August 12, 17, 22, 27 and September 1. His rehab assignment will run out on September 5, at which point the Nationals will have to add him to their active roster, but if they do not feel he’s ready, they can easily shut him down for the season. There will, however, be nowhere but the major leagues for him to pitch after September 5.
Strasburg’s rehab start was already the top story on the Hagerstown Suns’ website and the team sent out a “Breaking News” tweet with the information early on Thursday before the start had even been officially confirmed. Chances are his start will draw an extremely large crowd, even by the standards set earlier this season with Bryce Harper a member of the Suns.
Chances are also good that Strasburg will throw no more than three innings. No official word has been given on the pitch or inning limits for his first outing but his simulated games have been falling in the three-inning range. His final simulated game went 51 pitches and the reports on his stuff out of Florida have been good. After his first simulated game, two weeks ago, Nationals manager Davey Johnson said the right-hander was throwing 92-95 and looked free and easy.
The Nationals hope is for Strasburg to slot into the rotation where current ace Jordan Zimmermann currently pitches once Zimmermann, himself just 15 days removed from the two-year anniversary of his own Tommy John surgery, hits his 160-inning limit for this season. Zimmermann’s progression through the minors post-surgery was a slow one and the Nationals even optioned him once his 30-day rehab assignment ran out to continue building him up. Strasburg will not have that option. Sunday, however, is at least the beginning of the end of his time in exile, that much is sure.