Stephen Strasburg went on the IL on April 18th with inflammation in his right shoulder, but he made his first rehab start last weekend, and got through his between-outings work over the last few days, so the Nationals decided he was good to return to the rotation in the first of three with the Baltimore Orioles in Washington, D.C.’s Nationals Park.
“He checked all the boxes, he went through everything and felt good,” Davey Martinez said on Thursday afternoon officially announcing the 32-year-old right-hander’s return.
“Threw his last bullpen the other day, he felt great, came out of that with no issues.
“And then we decided he was ready. I talked to him. He feels like he’s ready so he’ll get the ball tomorrow.”
Strasburg hadn’t started in a major league game since an April 13th start in St. Louis, when he struggled on the mound, giving up eight hits, five walks, and eight runs, (seven earned) over four innings pitched in his second outing of the 2021 campaign. He didn’t look right in that outing, and before his next turn in the rotation came around, he was shut down. It took a while to get back, but Martinez said the righty put the work in to get back on the mound.
“He felt good, his last bullpen was really really good, and he threw the ball really, really well,” Martinez said before the game with the Orioles.
“He feels like he’s ready, so he’s going to go out there ... and compete today, and give us everything he’s got.”
Stephen Strasburg, Wicked 87mph Changeup. pic.twitter.com/OgKYedVx7u— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 22, 2021
Watching Strasburg’s bullpen in Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Martinez said, “Everything was together. His mechanics were good. His velo was really good, his changeup was good, curveball was good. So, it seemed like everything was in sync his last bullpen which was really nice.”
It was a long, frustrating road back, after Strasburg was limited to two starts by carpal tunnel neuritis in 2020’s 60-game campaign, but now he’s back and his manager said everyone’s hoping he’s here to stay the rest of the way.
“He put the time in,” Martinez said, “he’s put the work in to get back, and he’s coming back. For him, he loves to compete, and he wants to be on the field and he wants to be with his teammates and help the Nationals win. That’s what I know about Stephen. I’m excited that he’s out there today and he’s going to compete and help us win a ballgame.”
Strasburg was sitting 93-94 with his fastball early in the outing, he induced a lot of weak contact (8 ground ball outs and 4 Ks through five from 18 batters faced), and he gave up only one hit and three walks in a 62-pitch effort which ended after he labored a bit in the top of the fifth inning before stranding two of his three walks on the night.
As the Nationals rallied with two out in the bottom of the fifth, scoring two runs to go up, 2-0, Kyle Finnegan began to warm in the bullpen, but Strasburg came back for the top of the sixth, and retired one batter before his fourth walk of the game ended his outing...
It took a tremendous defensive play to keep the runner Strasburg left on from scoring, but Josh Bell came through on a relay from right, on a Trey Mancini double, but Bell cut it off in the middle of the infield after Juan Soto’s throw in cleared the cutoff man, and the running throw home Bell made got the runner at the plate...
Stephen Strasburg’s Line: 5.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 4 Ks, 72 P, 39 S, 8/3 GO/FO.
“It’s huge,” Bell said of what Strasburg’s return to the rotation means to the team after the 4-2 win.
“Look up that first inning he’s pumping 94, you know we’re all looking around like, ‘He’s back.’ So, it was a fun ballgame to watch him go out there and do his thing, and we took care of the rest offensively.”
“He was going to give us everything he had,” Martinez said, reiterating what he said in his pregame Zoom call, “and gets as many outs as he can, and that’s what he did tonight. He was good. Towards the end I felt like he got a little tired, his legs — he started to lose his legs a little bit, so it was perfect.”
“I’d say I ran out of gas a little bit there at the end,” Strasburg agreed in his own post game call.
“I just needed to get out there, got to start somewhere I guess.”
His manager was a little more enthusiastic about what he saw.
“He pitched tonight, used all of his pitches effectively. His fastball, like I said, it topped out at 94, which is really good, and his changeup and curveballs were exception as well.
“I thought he did really, really well for his first day back. Now we just got to build him up and keep him healthy.”
It was a long, frustrating process, but Strasburg made it back last night, and looked good for someone who hadn’t pitches in the majors for over a month. Is the shoulder issue now behind him?
“Yeah, I mean, I think it’s more — I feel like the shoulder stuff was like a symptom of stuff I’ve been doing mechanically. And it’s been a grind. It’s not where I want it to be, but it’s a step in the right direction. I’ve just got to take it one day at a time and keep working on it.”