Nationals reliever Matt Belisle came out of his Saturday bullpen session fine, as the right-hander continues to work his way back from a strained right calf muscle. The 35-year-old threw 26 pitches and went through his whole repertoire under the watchful eye of the Nats' training staff.
"It went great," Belisle said. "It was totally normal. I felt really good. I threw all of my pitches. I had a hitter stand in. It was great."
Belisle did not require any help in the way of a brace or compression pad on his leg. He feels fine and is ready for the next step in his rehab.
"We're going to do the running outside [Sunday morning] for the first time. We've been knocking down every test so far and it's been great," he said.
Belisle is nearing a minor league rehab assignment and could be ready to leave for one in the coming days.
"I'm knocking on that door pretty heavily. Because we threw and threw the ball well and it was normal, today is another step just to run with my cleats on outside. After that I think it's maybe a sim game and then it's time to go. Just have to convince them that from a baseball standpoint that I'm ready," he said.
The closest Nats affiliate, the Single-A Potomac Nationals, are at home Tuesday through Thursday. They are then in nearby Frederick, Md. through the weekend before returning to Woodbridge, Va. for a long homestand. Low-A Hagerstown is also home Monday through Wednesday.
One part of Belisle's rehab that has stood out to him has been his work with Harvey Sharman, the Nationals' director of sports medicine and medical services. Sharman spent 15 years with the Leeds United soccer team in England before joining the Nats.
All that experience with soccer injuries has come in handy dealing with Belisle's calf strain.
"Harvey in particular has been heading the protocol and seeing it through," Belisle explained. "His experience with the English football over there has proved to be super valuable with this. Not only has he seen so many hamstrings, Achilles' and calves, but he's seen every grade of strain and he's also rehabbed them. He's seen a lot of what not to do, as well as what to do."
Belisle dealt with a right calf strain during the offseason and spring training before making the Nats' Opening Day roster. He then left the Nats' game on April 26 against the Phillies after tweaking the muscle trying to field a groundball. Belisle was placed on the 15-day disabled list that same day and has been gone for 18 games.
Belisle has allowed one earned run in six innings (1.50 ERA) in seven total appearances this season.