By Chris Lingebach

WASHINGTON — If it weren’t for the Nationals’ 13-game division lead, Stephen Strasburg would already be back in the rotation, Mike Rizzo told The Sports Junkies Wednesday.

Asked if Strasburg would have already returned if not for the luxury of their NL East lead, Rizzo said, “Yes. He would be taking [his turn].”

“He’s able to pitch in games,” he said. “We’re just being cautious with him. He’s had the Tommy John, he’s had an elbow scope in the past, so we’re maintaining it. The same thing we did with Max — we shut Max down after he walked off and then we pushed him back. [He] missed a start and he was chomping at the bit to start, but it was just prudent to give him a little time because we’ve earned the right to do that with the lead that we have.”

Strasburg last pitched for the Nats on July 23, but was removed from the game after two innings with what was diagnosed as a right elbow nerve impingement. He’s now in the process of ramping up for his return, most recently throwing a bullpen session of 40 or so pitches in Chicago.

“He’s going to progress to a simulated games soon and if it all goes well, he’ll go on a rehab start, and it if all goes well, he’ll be back in the rotation soon after that,” Rizzo said.

“So if everything’s on schedule, what are you thinking,” Jason Bishop asked. “Two weeks? Or is that too early?”

“Yeah, I think that’s a reasonable timeline,” Rizzo said. “But I hate giving timelines because things change and that type of thing, and you give the expectations to the player, to the team, to the fan base, and then you have to push it back a little bit.”

“The good thing is that he’s throwing the ball well,” he said. “He’s throwing the ball free and easy and there’s no pain. And now it’s just ramping him back up to get some pitches under his belt so he can perform.”

The Nationals have a whole host of other players on the disabled list, most of whom Rizzo’s hopeful can return in time to get back in the groove ahead of the postseason. The goal, he says, is to have “that needle facing north with our regular players” by the end of September.

“Now [Jayson] Werth (fractured metatarsal, left foot) hasn’t played in a long time,” Rizzo said. “[Trea] Turner (non-displaced fracture, right wrist) hasn’t played in a long time; Michael Taylor (oblique strain) hasn’t played in a long time; Shawn Kelley (trap strain, neck soreness); Koda Glover (lower back stiffness, right should inflammation).”

“These guys haven’t played for us in a long time,” he said. “We want to get those guys the reps that they need and the feel to play again every day, because we need them going north at the same time.”

“We’re foreseeing the opportunity that all of them should be healthy for the playoffs,” he added.

Burke & Herbert Bank Fan Question of the Week

Would Adam Lind still be a bargain at his $5 million mutual option number for the 2018 season? — Vince in Dunkirk

“He’s a good player,” Rizzo said. “He’s a guy that we thought in the back of our minds that could be an everyday guy for us. He’s a person that you’re not afraid to play for a long period of time. He’s not your typical bench guy. If you project his numbers out, he’s probably well worth that, yeah.”

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