The Nats still don't know exactly when they will have Stephen Strasburg and Jonathan Papelbon back from the disabled list, but both pitchers have made significant strides this week in their respective injury rehabs.
For Strasburg, it was a bullpen session on Tuesday, one day after an MRI confirmed his upper back strain. Manager Dusty Baker said it was a positive step for Strasburg, but didn't share much more than that a day after.
"He said it went well. He said he felt good. I need to ask him how he feels today because the last time he threw it was the day after, not the day of," Baker said.
Strasburg has been on the disabled list since June 16 and is eligible to return on July 1. With his bullpen session Tuesday, he could theoretically pitch on Saturday if he follows his normal schedule and is ready to return.
Papelbon's status involves a more detailed update. The closer, who is coming back from a right intercostal strain, threw 30 pitches in a simulated game at Nationals Park on Wednesday. He faced off against bench players Chris Heisey and Stephen Drew. Each drove flyballs to the outfield, though neither landed in spots that would have likely resulted in base hits.
“I felt really good,” Papelbon said. “I felt normal, felt strong. I felt like my mechanics were there."
"He threw the ball well, it was coming out good. He was relatively sharp," Baker added.
The next step for Papelbon is much clearer than it is for Strasburg. Papelbon is expected to pitch with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators on Friday night. His main goal will be appearing in back-to-back games, a final step the Nats would like to see before activating him.
"I feel like I’m ready," Papelbon said. "I feel like I could go out there tomorrow and pitch, but right now it’s time to be more cautious than anything and make sure I can go back to back."
What is less clear is who the Nationals will remove from their bullpen to make room for Papelbon.
"It's a difficult decision when you have a good team. It's an easy decision when you're a bad team," Baker said. "Sometimes things have a way of working themselves out."