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Nationals confirm that Strasburg will pitch in Hagerstown on Sunday

Appearance will be pitcher's first since elbow surgery last fall

Rodriguez could be joining him in Hagerstown

August 04, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown is getting the call from Washington as Strasburg-mania is on the verge of restarting.

The Washington Nationals confirmed Thursday that prized pitcher Stephen Strasburg is ready to begin a string of rehabilitation starts targeted to get him back to the majors in September.

The first stop will come on Sunday at Muncipal Stadium when the Suns host Greensboro in a South Atlantic League game, the Hagerstown Suns announced in an email Thursday afternoon.

The release said Strasburg would be the Suns' starting pitcher. Game time at Municipal Stadium is 4:05 p.m. The release said the stadium gates will open at 2:05 p.m.

Nationals Manager Davey Johnson had been quoted in a number of media outlets that Strasburg's comeback from Tommy John elbow surgery could begin as soon as this weekend. A Washington Times blog reported Johnson said Strasburg "will pitch one or two innings in his first rehab start at Hagerstown this Sunday."

Suns officials said Wednesday there has been a bump in ticket requests since the reports hit Internet sites and television.

The Washington Times and Nats Insider also reported Washington may send injured catcher Ivan Rodriguez to Hagerstown on Sunday to catch Strasburg in a rehab start.

Rodriguez has been on the disabled list since July 7 with a strained oblique muscle. The Nationals want Rodriguez to get some at-bats over the weekend with hopes of activating him during their next homestand.

Any official word of the plans for Strasburg will probably be held until later today or Friday. Strasburg is scheduled for a workout today, and if the top pick in the 2009 amateur draft gets through the bullpen session without pain or any setbacks, the rehab comeback tour will be set.

Strasburg's start with the Suns will make Hagerstown the host of two of the Nationals' most significant player developments in the 2011 season. Bryce Harper made the city his first stop in his climb to the majors.

The 18-year-old Harper, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, spent three months here, playing 72 games before being promoted last month to Double-A Harrisburg.

The Nationals want Strasburg to work at their minor league sites, which include Potomac (in Woodbridge, Va.), Harrisburg, Pa., and Syracuse, N.Y. Hagerstown, Harrisburg and Potomac are the closest to Washington, but only the Suns are playing a home game Sunday.

The Nationals are planning to have Strasburg pitch every five days, as he will when he returns to Washington's starting rotation, according to the reports.

Following Strasburg's start here Sunday, the plan would be for him to pitch on Aug. 12, 17 and 22 if he doesn't experience any setbacks. Strasburg's pitch count would increase with each start to help build up his arm.

That timetable could also give Hagerstown another chance to see Strasburg. If the Nationals stick with the home-field formula, Hagerstown plays at Municipal Stadium on Aug. 17 and 22, while Potomac and Harrisburg are either on the road or off.

If the Nats elect to move him to Triple-A Syracuse for more experienced competition, the Chiefs are home on Aug. 12 and 17.

Strasburg's schedule will closely mirror that of starter Jordan Zimmermann, who will probably be shut down for the rest of the season in September, according to reports.

The Nationals have placed Zimmermann — who rehabbed with the Suns last season after Tommy John surgery — on a 160-inning limit to protect his arm.

If Strasburg progresses as hoped, he would assume Zimmermann's slot in the rotation late this season.

When Strasburg, 23, does take the mound, it will end six months of tedious work in his recovery from the ligament-replacement surgery.

The right-hander last pitched on Aug. 21, 2010, before undergoing reconstructive surgery on Sept. 3 to replace a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Recovery from the surgery usually takes between 10 and 14 months.

Strasburg was 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA with 92 strikeouts in 68 innings before hurting his arm last season against Philadelphia. He became the talk of baseball after he struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates in his major league debut on June 8, 2010.

Strasburg would become the fourth Nationals player to make a rehabilitation appearance with the Suns this season. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and pitchers Chad Gaudin and Chien-Ming Wang each made brief starts with the Suns.

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