Dusty Baker told MLB Network Radio hosts Casey Stern and Cliff Floyd this past week that Stephen Strasburg’s recent run of success, which includes 34 straight scoreless innings on the mound, could be traced to the decision to place the 29-year-old right-hander on the Disabled List earlier this season.
Baker said it was GM Mike Rizzo, who took a ton of abuse for shutting Strasburg down in September of 2012, when Washington was on its way to the first of four postseason appearances in the last six seasons, who made the decision to keep Strasburg out of the rotation when a right elbow nerve impingement cropped up in July.
Strasburg was good before the DL stint, putting up a 3.25 ERA, 37 walks and 141 Ks in 121 2⁄3 innings, over which he held opposing hitters to a .218/.282/.357 line.
He gave up two runs early in his first start back from close to a month off, and hasn’t given up a run since, posting a 0.51 ERA, four walks, 41 Ks and a .175/.202/.233 line in his last 35 innings on the mound.
“I think the major difference is when Rizzo kind of mandated that Stras needed to be shut down when he was trying to work through what it was,” Baker said.
“I think that helped him tremendously. It gave him time to just work on his body, not worry about pitching, train more, and just get everything together.”
The health concerns haven’t disappeared completely, however, as the ‘09 No. 1 overall pick has dealt with cramping.
“We’re still dealing with him having cramps from time to time, but we can deal with those, as long as his arm is solid, and he’s not giving up anything,” Baker explained.
The Nationals know they need Strasburg healthy when they get to October. Baker said his absence last year, was a big issue in the 2016 NLDS.
“We need him, period,” Baker said. “We were missing him last year in the playoffs. You hate to use injuries as an excuse, but it depends on who’s injured, and last year going into the playoffs we had Stras injured and [Wilson] Ramos, two of our main guys.”
Though he’s been in the organization for all three of the Nationals’ previous trips to the postseason, Strasburg’s made just one postseason start thus far, with the well-documented shutdown back in 2012, and a torn pronator tendon which ended his 2016 campaign prematurely. His one start, in 2014, was a five-inning outing against the San Francisco Giants.
He didn’t get to face the Dodgers last October, but he did this past June, when he held Los Angeles to one hit through five scoreless, then gave up two hits and two runs in a 22-pitch sixth inning that ended his outing in what ended up a 2-1 loss. He faces LA for a second time this season tonight as the Nationals try to avoid getting swept at home by a potential postseason opponent, and takes his scoreless inning streak in front of a national audience on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.