Posted on July 17, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine

Washington Nationals Stephen Strasburg

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When the Washington Nationals open the second half of the season on Friday, they’ll do so with a familiar face on the mound. The team announced Tuesday that Stephen Strasburg will be activated from the DL on Friday when the club begins the second half with a series against the Braves. Strasburg has been out for over a month with shoulder inflammation.

Injuries have plagued the Nationals throughout the season. Strasburg’s absence was one of the more notable. In an effort to fill the vacant spot in the rotation, the Nationals have already used nine different starting pitchers this season. Veteran Jeremy Hellickson has been a pleasant surprise at the back end of Washington’s rotation. But most of the club’s young pitchers have failed to perform at the big league level.

Strasburg, on the other hand, was in the midst of a nice season before he was placed on the DL. In 13 starts, Strasburg was 6-6 with a 3.46 ERA. After a sluggish start in April, he was 4-1 in five starts during the month of May. However, his two starts in early June were troubling, prompting him to move to the DL to rest his ailing shoulder.

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Nationals manager Dave Martinez reported last week that Strasburg is pain-free in his right shoulder. He’s made two minor league rehab starts, pitching a total of nine innings, allowing just one earned run while striking out 12.

Strasburg will rejoin a rotation that includes All-Star Game starter Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez, and Hellickson. Roark has struggled this year, but Hellickson and Gonzalez are both having fine seasons. Meanwhile, Scherzer is once again pitching like a Cy Young contender. The prospect of having Scherzer and Strasburg at the top of their rotation again has the Nationals thinking that now is the time for them to start making their move back to the top of the NL East.

“It starts Friday,” Martinez said Tuesday. “Friday, we’re going to come out and start playing like our hair’s on fire. Let’s really make a run at this thing.”

Adding to the positive vibes surrounding Strasburg’s return is the possibility of Ryan Zimmerman returning Friday as well. Zimmerman hasn’t played since May 9 because of an oblique strain. He was hitting just .217 at the time of the injury. But the Nationals will be pleased to welcome the veteran back nonetheless.

Despite his poor overall number, Zimmerman is hitting .324 with an OPS of .945 against left-handed pitching this year. He could form a platoon at first base with Matt Adams, who has become arguably Washington’s most impactful hitter this season. Having those two share time at first base would also strengthen the team’s bench.

After being heavy favorites to win the NL East when the season began, the Nationals entered the all-star break 48-48. However, they are just 5.5 games out of first place and five games out of a wild-card spot. Also, with Strasburg and Zimmerman set to return from injury, things are looking up. From here on out, both veterans could play an important role in helping the Nationals get back to the playoffs.

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