Gio Gonzalez's return from a shoulder inflammation is ramping up, with the left-hander ready to face live hitters again.
Gonzalez threw 35 pitches off a bullpen mound on Thursday and reported no problems with his shoulder.
"It feels extremely better," he said. "I might have been a little tick off in my mechanics. But other than that, the arm felt great."
Next up for Gonzalez: He'll throw 50 pitches in a simulated game Sunday morning, facing live hitters and taking a break between "innings" to mimic something close to game situations.
Assuming all goes well, Gonzalez would then make a rehab start for a minor-league affiliate five days later, perhaps the final step in his return to the Nationals rotation.
"I don't want to give a date out yet, but be ready," he said. "I'll be coming soon."
Gonzalez hasn't pitched since May 17, when he was torched by the Mets for five runs in only three innings and then reported shoulder soreness afterward. Turns out it had been a lingering problem over the previous month, perhaps contributing to Gonzalez's surprisingly high 4.62 ERA through nine starts this season.
He has been a fixture in the Nationals' dugout since then, watching and agonizing as his teammates have lost six of their last seven and seen their record fall two games under .500.
"It's one of the toughest things to do," he said. "You want to do everything you can to go out there and help out. We're grinding, we're clawing, we're scratching. We're doing whatever it takes to try to eke out a win, but we've just got to be patient. We've got a good feeling. We've got great chemistry on our team. Just be patient with us. That's all it is."