- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 13, 2021

As one starting pitcher took steps toward a quick return Sunday, another was stuck in a holding pattern.

The Washington Nationals saw Max Scherzer suffer a groin tweak that forced him to exit his start Friday after 12 pitches.  But neither Scherzer nor manager Dave Martinez think the right-hander will be out of action long. Scherzer threw from flat ground ahead of Sunday’s series finale against the San Francisco Giants, and he’s scheduled to throw a bullpen Monday.

If he can make that bullpen session — and feel fine before, during and after throwing — he’ll be in line to start Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. If not, a short stint on the injured list could be required for Washington’s ace.

“We’ll see how he feels after he plays catch,” Martinez said. “We’ll go from there. He’s scheduled to throw a bullpen tomorrow. So if he can make that bullpen, we’ll make a decision then.”

There’s less known about Stephen Strasburg’s situation. Strasburg landed on the 10-day injured list following an early removal from his June 1 start against the Atlanta Braves, when his command and velocity were down. An MRI revealed nerve irritation in his neck, which he dealt with in 2018, too.

Almost two weeks since Strasburg landed on the injured list, the starter still isn’t throwing. Martinez said Strasburg is just rehabbing and conditioning. His workouts won’t involve throwing until the nerve irritation goes away — and there’s little certainty when that might be.

When Strasburg’s nerve irritation does subside, he won’t be slotted immediately into the rotation, either.

“He’s going to have a follow-up [appointment],” Martinez said. “Right now, we’re just waiting for that nerve irritation to go away, and then once that, we’ll get him back to throwing. He’s going to have to build himself up again. He’s going to have to start throwing flat ground, some long toss, and then we’ll get him on the mound.”

The Nationals’ rotation has seen plenty of shuffling this year, with Strasburg landing on the injured list earlier this year for right shoulder inflammation unrelated to his current neck ailment.

Erick Fedde returned Saturday to make his first start in a month after recovering from the coronavirus. But Scherzer left Friday’s start early, and ahead of Saturday’s doubleheader, late-inning reliever Daniel Hudson landed on the 10-day injured list with right elbow inflammation.

Hudson, a 34-year-old who has recovered from two elbow reconstruction surgeries in his career, doesn’t think this injury is much cause for concern, particularly after an MRI showed no structural damage. Hudson has been the Nationals’ most reliable high-leverage option so far this season, with a 2.59 ERA and 0.904 WHIP against him in 24 1/3 innings pitched.

Add that to the uncertainty of Strasburg’s situation and Scherzer’s pivotal bullpen Monday, and the Nationals pitching staff is full of questions.

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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