- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2011

DENVER — Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg threw a successful side session in Viera, Fla., on 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 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 Aug. 12, 17, 22, 27 and Sept. 1. His rehab assignment will run out Sept. 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 shut him down for the rest of the season. There will, however, be nowhere but the major leagues for him to pitch after Sept. 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 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 when Bryce Harper was a member of the Suns.

In all likelihood, Strasburg will throw no more than three innings Sunday. No official word has been given on the pitch or inning limits, but he has typically thrown around three innings in his simulated games. He threw 51 pitches in his final simulated game Tuesday, and the reports on his stuff out of Florida throughout his rehab have been good. After his first simulated game, two weeks ago, Nationals manager Davey Johnson said the right-hander was throwing 92-95 mph and looked free and easy.

The Nationals hope that Strasburg can slot into Jordan Zimmermann’s place in the rotation, once he hits his 160-inning limit for this season. Zimmermann is just 15 days removed from the two-year anniversary of his own Tommy John surgery. 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 so that he could continue to build arm strength. The Nationals don’t have the same luxury with Strasburg.