Through seventeen starts this season, Stephen Strasburg was (13-0), posting a 2.51 ERA with 33 walks, 138 Ks and a .195/.258/.307 line against in 144 2⁄3 innings, missing time with an upper back strain that led to a DL stint, but otherwise dominating opposing hitters.
In six starts that followed, including his first loss of the season, Washington’s ‘09 No. 1 overall pick was (2-4) with a 7.63 ERA, 11 walks, 41 Ks and a .291/.345/.528 line against over 30 2⁄3 IP before he landed on the DL for a second time with right elbow soreness.
After a number of throwing and bullpen sessions, Strasburg was finally deemed ready to return to the mound on Wednesday night in the nation’s capital, in the series finale with the Atlanta Braves.
Before tonight’s game, Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker talked to reporters about his conversations with the pitcher and what he would be looking for from Strasburg to convince him the righty was back and ready to help out down the stretch.
“I’m just hoping that he comes out fine,” Baker said.
“I asked him, I said, ‘Hey, are you ready?’ and he goes, ‘Yeah,’ and I asked him, ‘Are you psyched?’ and he said, ‘Yeah,’ and I said, ‘Are you chomping at the bit?’
“He answered all the questions with a yes.”
As for what he would be looking for from Strasburg?
“Probably if he’s letting it go,” Baker said. “Not velocity so much as if he’s finishing out front and letting it go. You can tell when a guy is kind of apprehensive to let it go.
“So we’ll see. I don’t expect him to be as sharp as he was a month ago and if he is then that’s a pleasant surprise to us and to me.”
Strasburg was letting it go early, throwing his fastball around 95-96, and working in a brutal changeup that was sitting 90-91 and getting swings and misses, but around pitch No. 40 he began to show signs of discomfort on the mound, flexing his elbow after what ended up being the last few offerings he made before he was lifted from the game following a brief meeting with team trainer Paul Lessard and pitching coach Mike Maddux.
“He felt a pinch in the back of his elbow,” Baker explained after the extra-inning win.
“Doctors evaluated him and we’re going to send him in for an MRI tomorrow.”
Baker sent his pitching coach and trainer out first, but they called him out to the mound relatively quickly.
“I saw a grimace on his face during a couple pitches,” Baker said, “so I thought it would be best if Mike and the trainer went out and then when they called me out, that was a long walk. So I’m hoping he’s okay and we’ll find out more tomorrow.”
Strasburg did not have an MRI when the recent elbow issue came up.
GM Mike Rizzo told reporters at the time that he didn’t think it was necessary, and he’d had one before his 7-year/$175M extension was official.
“I don’t think we’re at the MRI stage right now,” Rizzo said, as quoted by Washington Post writers Chelsea Janes and Jorge Castillo.
“If we did, it would just be a precautionary one, just to get another image. We have one from when he signed his extension, so we have a fairly current one. And we feel we have our arms around what’s going on there.”
Baker too said tonight he was satisfied that Strasburg was healthy before he took the mound.
“I told you guys earlier that he did everything that was asked of him, he was cleared.
“He wasn’t trying to be a hero. He said that he felt fine, but a lot of time you really don’t know until get into action.”
“We thought everything was fine. [Wilson] Ramos said he was throwing the heck out of the ball. And he said that his changeup was outstanding. He had good command.
“And usually if something is wrong you don’t have command and so we’re hoping that it’s something minor, but again we’ll find out tomorrow.”
The Nationals previously said that the elbow soreness that landed him on the DL, was not in the same area as his Tommy John surgery.
Baker was asked tonight if the pinch Strasburg felt was in the same area as the issue that led to the stint on the Disabled List?
“I don’t think so. They said it was in the back of the elbow. So, I can’t address that.”
• We talked about the apparent injury, the elbow issues and the Nationals’ win on Nats Nightly: