“You’ve never heard me say seven years for a pitcher is a good idea,” Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo said in a July 30, 2021 talk with reporters, when he was asked about the fact that Stephen Strasburg has made just seven starts, and thrown just 26 2⁄3 innings, since the 33-year-old, ‘09 No. 1 overall pick signed his 7-year/$245M free agent deal in D.C. after he’d briefly tested free agency following the club’s World Series win in 2019.
A nerve issue in his right wrist, which was eventually diagnosed as carpal tunnel neuritis in his throwing hand, required surgery in 2020, and the Nats’ ‘19 World Series MVP dealt with inflammation in his right shoulder and a neck strain, before receiving a diagnosis of neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome, which necessitated another surgical procedure, and ended his 2021 campaign.
“They throw a baseball very, very fast, many, many times, and it’s an unnatural action,” Rizzo continued, talking pitchers in general and Strasburg in particular, “but we pick and choose who we want to give these long-term deals to, and I’ve said this many, many times, it’s the person that we’re signing, not the player, and we got ourselves a great player with Stras and even better person. So we are going to get the maximum out of Stephen Strasburg that we can, he’s going to be champing at the bit to get back on the mound and we expect him to work extremely hard to get back and he will and you guys know when he’s on the mound he’s as good as anybody in baseball. So that’s our expectation, get him back on the mound healthy, and we expect him to be a great pitcher for us.”
Talking immediately after the team’s sell-off at the trade deadline, Rizzo said that the expectation at the time was that Strasburg would be able to start throwing early this winter, with the hope he would be ready for the start of Spring Training and the 2022 season.
“My expectation is that following the doctor’s guidelines I think that he should be ready to pitch by Spring Training,” Rizzo explained. “I don’t personally have a lot of experience with thoracic outlet surgery rehabilitation, and not many of us do, but I think that under the medical staff that we have and the rehab staff that we have, we’re going to get him the best that he can be, and hopefully that is ready to participate in all baseball activities at the beginning of Spring Training.”
Heading into the winter, Rizzo said over the final weekend of the regular season that he had positive reports on the Nationals’ right-hander.
“We just spoke to Stras today on getaway day, and he looks great, he feels great, he’s going to begin throwing the beginning of next month,” Rizzo told reporters in the nation’s capital, adding, “... our expectation is that he’s going to be pitching to prepare for the season at the beginning of Spring Training.”
While the messaging has been strictly best-case scenario from Rizzo, he did acknowledge in an MLB Network appearance in November that how much Strasburg can contribute this season is one of the club’s biggest questions as they prepare for the new season and build their rotation for the upcoming campaign.
“He’s probably the biggest question mark that we have going into this thing,” Rizzo said.
“Probably one of the most important players on the roster that we need to see where he’s at, but he feels good, he’s in a good spot right now, he began throwing this month, and he feels, and we feel and the medical team feels that he should be full-go by Spring Training.”