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Could Stephen Strasburg Return in 2011?

Washington Nationals fans already had a lot to be excited about going into the second half of 2011, but the club’s management may have just added one more big reason. According to CBSSports.com, Nats manager Davey Johnson told Holden Radio that there’s a possibility of Stephen Strasburg pitching in 2011.

“We’re optimistic that he’ll come back and give us a few innings this year,” Johnson told the radio show.

On top of that promising sound-bite, Bill Ladson of MLB.com reported that Strasburg threw 45 pitches to live batters two days ago and felt no problems. He also tweeted that Mike Rizzo has reportedly not ruled out allowing Stephen Strasburg to pitch in Washington this season.

The last thing the Nationals would want to do is to rush perhaps the most valuable arm in baseball back to the Major League’s before he’s ready, but if the Nationals have a chance to compete for the Wild Card in 2011 it may well be worth it. Of course, Baseball Prospectus projected today that the Nationals have a 0.2% chance of accomplishing that goal this year, but as the legendary Yogi Berra once said, “it ain’t over till it’s over.

I’m still hesitant to believe however that they would bring him up to Washington this season. While he has had no set backs in his recovery, it has been a very cautious one and it has been documented that his schedule has been far behind where Jordan Zimmermann’s was last year. Mike Rizzo has a track record of being super cautious with his young players, as he’s shown with Bryce Harper this spring, and it would seem foolish of him to add a few extra inning to Strasburg’s season for posterity’s sake.

I will say though that I do not believe the fact that both Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson spoke about Strasburg’s potential return today is a coincidence. Johnson is known as a master of motivation, and I wouldn’t put it past him, or Rizzo, to use this as a carrot to dangle in front of his team as they embark toward the second half. We saw the amazing boost the club had when Ryan Zimmerman returned in June, and I can only imagine what the promise of having Strasburg back in the clubhouse will do.

This could be viewed as motivation for the team to stay in the mix until they can pick up one of the top pitchers in baseball in late August, but will it make any difference? Time will tell.

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