Updated at 6:23 p.m.
Stephen Strasburg completed a strong, 5-inning rehab start at Class AA Harrisburg on Wednesday afternoon, leaving the Nationals to decide whether their enigmatic right-hander is ready to come off the disabled list now or whether he still needs more fine tuning.
Strasburg allowed two runs (only one earned) over five innings for Harrisburg, holding the Richmond Flying Squirrels to four hits while striking out six without issuing a walk. He threw 71 pitches, 48 of them for strikes, with a fastball that registered 95-97 mph. Cleared to go up to 80 total pitches, he wrapped up his afternoon by throwing nine more in the bullpen.
"Really, he had another inning in the bullpen, albeit a short inning," manager Matt Williams said. "He went back down to the bullpen and threw nine more, to give him 80. So he really had six times up and came out of it feeling fine. We'll see where he recovers to tomorrow and his next bullpen and see where he's at, but it was a good outing for him."
On the 15-day disabled list since May 30 with a strained left trapezius muscle, Strasburg was back throwing within a matter of days. He faced teammates during a 60-pitch simulated game Friday in Milwaukee, then ramped up a bit more Wednesday in his first rehab start.
Strasburg retired the first seven batters he faced in Harrisburg, striking out a pair and allowing only one ball to leave the infield, before giving up a run in the top of the third on a groundball single and an RBI double that glanced off center fielder Derrick Robinson's glove. He gave up an unearned run in the fourth after third baseman Matt Skole threw a ball away, with a couple more groundball singles following the error. He then finished his afternoon on a high note, retiring the side in the fifth with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout.
Because he hasn't missed much time and has already built his arm up to the point he should be able to approach 100 pitches the next time he takes the mound, Strasburg could be deemed ready to come off the DL and rejoin the Nationals rotation early next week.
"It's a possibility, yeah," Williams said. "We have to see how he is feeling after today and how he gets through his bullpen, which won't be for a couple more days. But after that, if he feels good to go, his pitch count is such that it would be his final spring training pitch count anyways in anticipation of start No. 1 for the season, at 80 or 85 pitches anyway. So he would be good to 100-ish for the next start. So if he feels good, there's no reason why we wouldn't think about that."
It remains to be seen where exactly Strasburg would slot into the Nationals' rotation, which remains up in the air itself for the next few days. The club hasn't announced who will start any games during this weekend's series against the Pirates, though Williams suggested Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross would pitch in some order. Tanner Roark could pitch on Sunday on normal rest, if needed.