Scherzer (back) expects to return Thursday

Nationals ace Max Scherzer expects to return to Washington's rotation Thursday after missing nearly four weeks with a rhomboid strain, declaring himself "ready to pitch."

Scherzer discussed his schedule for this week on Sunday, one day after throwing a 65-pitch simulated game. The three-time Cy Young Award winner will throw a bullpen session Monday and, unless he suffers a setback, will be activated from the 10-day injured list to start Thursday against the Pirates.

"He'll be on his normal schedule now, and then if everything goes well, he's probable for Thursday," Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters.

Scherzer said he experienced "anticipated" soreness Sunday morning and that "everything feels right where it should be."

"There's no extra soreness other than what I anticipated," he said. "To me, that's right on par."

The Nationals (67-56) enter Monday 5½ games behind the first-place Braves (74-52) in the National League East but are 1½ games ahead of the Cubs (66-58) for the league's first wild card.

Scherzer originally hit the IL on July 13 before returning to pitch against the Rockies on July 25, allowing three runs in five innings and throwing a season-low 86 pitches.

Four days later, Scherzer again landed on the IL, where he's been since. The right-hander is 9-5 with a 2.41 ERA in 20 starts this season and is second in the NL with 189 strikeouts.