The Nationals don't expect reliever Sean Burnett to be cleared to throw until Saturday, a development that would likely push his return to game action until at least Monday.
And if things don't go quite that smoothly, Burnett's lingering elbow inflammation could force manager Davey Johnson to use fellow left-hander John Lannan in a different manner than originally planned.
Johnson said Burnett -- who last pitched on Sunday when he was charged with his second consecutive blown save against the Cardinals -- won't be allowed to play catch until at least Saturday after spending the last week resting and receiving anti-inflammatory medication.
Burnett believes the inflammation may actually be to a nerve in his arm, not any muscle, according to Johnson.
"Hopefully the medicine he's taking will clear that up," the manager said.
Given the fact Burnett has been dealing with this elbow issue at various points this summer, the Nationals may have to alter the way he's used late in games down the stretch to avoid overwork. Burnett typically pitches the full eighth inning, regardless of which side of the plate the opposing hitters stand on.
"I may have to start using him for a hitter here and there, rather than using him an inning or more," Johnson said. "That's the luxury of pitchers going further and having a quality 'pen."
If Burnett isn't available for full duties during next week's series against the Mets, Johnson said he might use Lannan out of the bullpen more than he originally planned. The left-hander was expected to make one relief appearance as a tune-up for a planned start during the Nationals' Sept. 14-16 series against the Braves, filling Stephen Strasburg's rotation slot.
If Lannan is needed more than once out of the bullpen in New York, though, he probably wouldn't be able to start that weekend in Atlanta. Another complicating factor: The Nationals have off-days sandwiched around both the start and the completion of that Braves series, and they want to be careful not to give their other four starters too much time off between outings.
"I may have to revise when I'm going to use Lannan," Johnson said. "I don't know for sure yet. I thought maybe the Atlanta series. But I didn't look at all the days off before and after. It's still in the works."