Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg expected to make season debut Thursday

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Stephen Strasburg is expected to start Thursday against the Marlins in Miami, according to two people with knowledge of the Washington Nationals’ plans. Strasburg threw a bullpen session in Miami on Monday, felt good afterward and decided with the team that he’s ready to join the rotation, those two people explained. It would be Strasburg’s first major league appearance since last July, when he underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.

Strasburg, 33, has pitched just 26⅔ innings since signing a seven-year, $245 million contract in December 2019. To lend that number a bit more context, he threw 36⅓ during the 2019 title run alone. But with each injury and procedure, the Nationals have stayed patient, saying they would rather have Strasburg for the long-term than rush him back.

Manager Dave Martinez said in March he hoped Strasburg would make between 20 and 25 starts this season. Strasburg’s anticipated return on Thursday sets him up for about 20, should he stay healthy for the rest of the year. And while that remains a big if with Strasburg, an on-schedule arrival — or at least a relatively on-schedule arrival — will be a bright spot in what’s mostly been a dreadful season for Washington.

Washington (21-35) enters Tuesday’s series opener in last place in the National League East. If Strasburg does take his turn Thursday, the rotation at LoanDepot Park will be Joan Adon, Josiah Gray and the former World Series MVP.

Before meeting the Nationals in Cincinnati this past weekend, Strasburg found a groove with the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings. In his third rehab appearance, the righty yielded one hit, one walk and struck out four in six innings. His fastball sat in the low-90s and touched 93 mph, according to reports. Most important, though, was that Strasburg completed six frames without pain in his shoulder or neck.

If Washington wanted to keep Strasburg on a standard schedule — four days of rest, pitch on the fifth — he would face the Marlins on Wednesday. But even before the week began, Martinez announced Adon and Gray as his Tuesday and Wednesday starters, respectively, leaving Thursday as a loud TBD. One option was Evan Lee, a left-handed rookie who made his debut against the New York Mets on June 1. And another, evidently, was to plug Strasburg into a rotation of Adon, Gray, Erick Fedde and Patrick Corbin.

Almost any version of Strasburg will be an upgrade for a staff that ranks last in the majors in starter ERA (5.88). Rough years for Corbin, Adon and Aaron Sanchez, signed by the Minnesota Twins to a minors contract Monday, have juiced the numbers. The Nationals will soon see if Strasburg can help bring them down.

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