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Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg and the need to bounce back after injury-shortened 2020 campaign...

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Stephen Strasburg made just two starts this past season, a year after he was the Nationals’ World Series MVP...

MLB: Washington Nationals at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

START NO. 1 OF 2020:

The start of Stephen Strasburg’s 2020 campaign was delayed by a nerve issue in his wrist which kept him from getting on the mound in a competitive outing until August 9th.

That appearance started well, with four scoreless innings, in which he allowed just two hits, but things went all pear-shaped in the fifth, with the 32-year-old right-hander giving up five hits and five runs before he was lifted with one out.

Strasburg told reporters afterwards that the nerve issue returned in his final inning of work, much to his frustration.

The 2009 No. 1 overall pick, and everyone in baseball, had to ramp up quickly for the start of the 60-game COVID season, after baseball shut down during Spring Training 1.0 in mid-March, then started up again in July.

“I think it’s a process,” the 2019 World Series MVP said, “... and I know it will only get better, it’s just going to be something that I think, in general, you can kind of see around baseball that a lot of guys are going down, and you know, it is a tall task for all of us to kind of get back there in big league games, and try and go out there and be at your best, but it’s what we signed up for and we’re going to go out there and give it everything we have.

“I think it’s a good place to start for me,” Strasburg added, “and get some good work in in-between and hopefully tighten things up a little bit for the next one.”

Towards the end of his outing, however, he had clearly been dealing with something, and he acknowledged as much.

“Yeah. I mean, to be honest, you know, I felt it,” the ‘09 No. 1 overall pick said, “and I don’t know if it was necessarily fatigue or just not having necessarily the stamina built up quite yet, but it’s something where I don’t think I’m doing any long-term harm on it, but it does have an impact on being able to throw the baseball and being able to commit to the pitches. So, yeah, that’s something I haven’t quite figured out, how to pitch through it yet, so I think the goal is to continue to get built up and get the pitch count up to where that won’t be flaring up over the course of the start.”

ORIGINS OF ISSUE:

When he was scratched from a planned July 25th outing in the second game of the season, Strasburg explained that the issue was something he’d been dealing with for a while at that point.

“It started out probably at like the end of the first week in camp,” he explained.

“I was waking up in the middle of the night and my hand was asleep, kept falling asleep, and I was getting these feelings, and it wasn’t really bothering me throwing — and it seemed like once we started to try to ramp up and stuff the symptoms seemed to increase.

“It really is something — the last two intrasquad games or whatever, I was feeling it pretty regularly, and just something you try to throw through, and after I got out of the last start, issues just kind of kept persisting.

“I saw that there was nerve impingement in my wrist, got a cortisone shot to hopefully create some more space in there to let it calm down and get back to feeling normal.”

Asked at that point if he was weighing the benefits of continuing to pitch in the truncated season when he was potentially making the issue worse, Strasburg said it was something he’d considered.

“To be frank, this season is kind of a mess to begin with,” he acknowledged, “... so I’ve got to think big picture here, and it’s my career, and I know in the long run it’s important to try to make as many starts as you can, and by putting yourself in a compromising position now, I don’t really know if it’s necessarily like the best way of moving forward, so it is what it is, but I’m pretty optimistic that it won’t keep me out very long.”

START NO. 2 IS A BRIEF ONE:

Strasburg returned to the mound five days after his initial outing, but he was lifted after throwing just 14 pitches and clearly showing signs that things were still not right.

“We watched him and honestly I didn’t like what I saw,” manager Davey Martinez explained.

“I told [trainer] Paul [Lessard], we were going to go out, and I told him then and there, ‘Hey, I don’t want you to continue right now.’ I mean, I appreciated — I talked to him after he came out and I appreciated him trying to gut it out, but I don’t want this to become a bigger issue if something else goes wrong, so he’s going to get reevaluated here tomorrow and we’ll know more tomorrow. But he’s a big part of our future, and I don’t see him getting hurt any more right now until we figure out what’s really going on.”

The plan at that point, Martinez said, was to figure out what was going on before making any other decisions.

“I honestly believe at this point that we need to really look at this very closely and see what happens here in the next few days. I’m not going to run him out there like that,” he said.

“He was upset. He wanted to be out there. But I’m not going to see him go through that. I mean, he’s one of our best and to see him try to gut it out like that, I appreciate it, we all did, but man, we’ve got to take care of him.

“So at this point right now, like I said, we’ll reevaluate him and we’ll go from there.”

Within a week, Strasburg and the team had a diagnosis of carpal tunnel neuritis in his right hand, and surgery was scheduled that would effectively end his 2020 season.

“He wants to get this right,” Martinez said.

“Disappointed that he couldn’t finish out this season, but I told him, I said, ‘Let’s just get this fixed.’

“He was hoping that maybe he could fight through this, but for me it doesn’t make any sense that he goes out there and tries to do what he did his last outing.

“So let’s just get it fixed and hopefully he comes back and he helps us win in the future.

“He’s a huge part of this future, as you know, he’s here for many, many years, so we want to get him healthy.”

“We think that once he gets his surgery he’ll be back ready to go when Spring Training 2021 starts, and he should be good going forward,” GM Mike Rizzo said shortly after the definitive diagnosis.

“It’s a repetition injury,” Rizzo told reporters.

“You can only surmise that it’s from throwing breaking pitches and changeups throughout his lifetime and his career, and I think it’s taken its toll on him in that regard.

“We feel that it’s an injury that he should make a full recovery from and be ready for the season in ‘21.”

“I expect Stras to come back full recovery,” Martinez said in the last week of the season. “He feels really good right now.”

With months off to rehab, and (hopefully) a full Spring Training to ramp up to 2021, will we see the Strasburg who helped the club win a World Series in 2019 back to where he was a year ago at this point?