Following Gio Gonzalez's start in Nationals Park in Sunday's win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams was asked if there was a decision made on Tuesday night's starter for the series opener with the Atlanta Braves.
The expectation is that Stephen Strasburg will return from the 15-Day DL to face the Nationals' NL East rivals, which would mean there would have to be a move made to make room on the roster.
Williams didn't have an answer for reporters, however.
"We are going to look at it tomorrow," he said. "We'll have a work day here and we'll have something tomorrow if not on Tuesday morning."
Though they're not the ones making those decisions, both Gonzalez, after his outing, and Bryce Harper, when they spoke reporters, said that Stephen Strasburg would be back in the Nationals' rotation:
Williams didn't say what's next for Strasburg, but Gonzalez & Harper each mentioned that he's going to rejoin the rotation this week.— Tom Schad (@Tom_Schad) June 21, 2015
So what has Williams said about the plans for Strasburg since the 26-year-old right-hander made a successful rehab start with the Harrisburg Senators last Wednesday?
"I thought he came out of it fine," Williams said when he met reporters for the first time after the outing in which Strasburg completed five innings, striking out six and allowing four hits and two runs, one earned.
"Threw 71 pitches in five innings," the Nats' skipper continued, "which is a really nice pitch count for him given that many times up and out there and then, really, he had another inning in the bullpen, albeit a short inning, so he went back down to the bullpen and threw nine more to give him 80 [pitches] and so he really had six times up and came out of it feeling fine, so 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 today."
"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," Williams explained. "But after that if he feels good to go, then -- his pitch count is such that it would be his final Spring Training pitch count anyway 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 we wouldn't think about that."
Williams talked about Strasburg again the next morning in an appearance on MLB Network Radio.
"He's going to be back with us today," Williams said. "He threw well. He threw 71 pitches in the game itself and then went back down to the bullpen and simulated another inning and threw nine more, so he threw 80 total and came out of it feeling good. We have to see him today and make sure he feels good today and get him through his bullpen which will happen in the next couple of days and then make a decision on him. Fastball was good, curveball was good. He touched 99 and 100 and felt good about it. So I think his remarks after were positive.
"He felt good about the outing. He felt good about his health, which is first and foremost, and so if he gets through the bullpen in the next couple of days and feels good about that there's no reason that he can't be back with us and taking his normal spot in the rotation."
Strasburg threw in Nationals Park on Thursday afternoon as Williams explained to reporters when he met with the press before the finale of the Nats' two-game set with the Tampa Bay Rays.
"He was out throwing today," Williams said. "Feels fine. He was really pleased with the way it went, as we all are, so he'll go to his bullpen and ramp it back up again and see where he's at. And hopefully that's great too and then he's ready to go."
On Saturday afternoon, the Nationals' second-year manager provided the next update after Strasburg's bullpen was completed.
"Everything came out of the bullpen fine," Williams said. "We'll reevaluate tomorrow, make sure that there [are] no issues and go make a decision from there."
Williams was asked directly if the next step was a return to the rotation?
"If he comes out of this bullpen fine, he was at 80 pitches in his last rehab start," he said, so, "there's no reason he couldn't go to 95 and get in a big league game and do that. So we'll have to see about his health though. I have to make sure that coming out of this -- throwing bullpens is one thing, the start that he had was an indication that he feels okay, and this last bullpen will give us further indication that he's good coming out of that and ready for a next one, there's no reason that he wouldn't be in our rotation if he feels good."
There's no word from the Nationals today, so it looks like an announcement will be coming on Tuesday when the Nationals make their starter for the opener with Atlanta official.
Williams asked on Friday night what the future held for Joe Ross, who struck out 11 in 7 ⅓ against the Pirates, giving up six hits and one earned run in what ended up a 4-1 win. Ross would appear to be the odd man out if and when Strasburg returns.
Ross made another good impression, Williams said.
"It allows us to have confidence in him in any situation," he explained. "So whether that's starting or if he comes back and is in the bullpen or if he remains in the bullpen or what have you. It's the impression that we all hoped he would make and I'm sure he's proud to have made, so we'll see where we go from here."
"[Ross has] opened eyes," Williams added on Saturday afternoon. "Seriously opened eyes. So, those are decisions that have to be made if Stephen is back and ready to go. We'll have to make those tough decisions. I don't look at it any other way than a luxury for our team, because he has pitched really well and that's another guy that can pitch really well for us. Unfortunately, we're not going to go to a six-man rotation. That's not going to happen. So, those decisions will have to be made at some point, assuming Stephen is healthy and ready to go, we'll have to make it."