Since the end of the 2019 campaign, when he helped lead the Washington Nationals to the first World Series championship by a D.C.-based team since 1924, Stephen Strasburg, MVP of that title run, has made a total of seven starts. Strasburg has thrown just 26 2⁄3 innings in the last two seasons, while dealing with carpal tunnel neuritis (which required a surgical fix that ended his 2020 campaign), right shoulder inflammation, (which kept him on the Injured List for more than a month early this season), and now right lat tightness (which ended his latest outing after just 1 1⁄3 innings Tuesday night in Atlanta, and has subsequently landed him back on the 10-Day IL).
Strasburg signed a 7-year/$245M deal with the Nationals after that World Series run, but he simply hasn’t been able to stay on the mound in the first two years of that deal.
“I know he’s frustrated,” teammate Ryan Zimmerman said after Tuesday night’s win over the Braves in Truist Park. “I obviously don’t know what’s going on, but for us it’s frustrating too because we know what Stephen can be and we need that guy if we’re going to get where want to go this year.”
Zimmerman, and the rest of Strasburg’s teammates, have seen the work he’s put in behind the scenes over the last two years (and throughout his career, including during his return to the mound following the torn UCL that he suffered in his first season in the majors in 2010), so they all know what the right-hander has done to try to get right.
“I can tell you it’s not for lack of effort or for lack of wanting to be out there,” Zimmerman said.
“I’ve known Stephen for a long time and he wants the ball as much as anyone else, and puts in as much work as anyone else, so that’s what makes you feel even worse for him with whatever is going on. Hopefully it’s nothing serious, like I said, I have no clue, but you hate to see it for a guy that works so hard and is such a good guy and obviously a guy that we need.”
“It’s tough,” Austin Voth said, after filling in admirably when Strasburg’s start ended rather abruptly on Tuesday night. “I mean, he’s such a competitor and to not be able to go out there and do his thing and pitch the way he wants to, he’s got to be frustrated, and I know that we all just want to see him go out there and be healthy and perform well.”
His manager just could not watch him struggle on the mound like he was on Tuesday night though, so he pulled the plug even though he went in hoping he’s get some length out of his right-hander to spare the bullpen.
“He came out and the velo wasn’t quite there,” Davey Martinez said, “and he started yanking balls again, and I thought, ‘Something doesn’t look right.’”
Strasburg walked Ronald Acuña, Jr. on four pitches to start the game, and that just raised the skipper’s level of concern about what he was seeing.
“Because he doesn’t walk a guy the way he walked him,” Martinez explained, “... and then he threw a couple breaking balls for strikes, I went out there though, and then he got out of the inning and he came in and said, ‘I tightened up a little bit. But I want to go back out, I want to see what happens,’ and we sent him back out and I just watched him and it didn’t get any better, so I made the decision to go get him.”
Martinez said Strasburg’s trap (or trapezius muscle) was tight, they worked on it in-between innings, but it wouldn’t loosen up for him, so they pulled him from the mound.
“He tried to pitch through it, and I told [trainer] Paul [Lessard], I said, ‘I don’t want to see him going through it. Let’s get him out and see what’s wrong with him,’ and we’ll have to figure it out. But he couldn’t get it loose, tried to get it loose, couldn’t get loose.”
So, Strasburg left the game with plans to get an MRI.
“We’ve got to get this thing right,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday morning.
“It’s the second time with this neck, trap type of area, so we’ve got to figure out what’s going on there and get him right and get him back on the mound.”
“He’s a big part of our rotation, obviously, and we need to get him right. But when he’s on the mound, he’s as good as anybody,” Rizzo continued, “... so we just got to get him on the mound and get him on the mound healthy, and keep him out there consistently. He’s going to get an MRI. We’ll see what that shows and we’ll take it from there. We’ve been down this road before so we will handle it.”
How is Strasburg handling it? And what was Martinez’s message for the starter when he got on a plane and flew back to D.C. to get the MRI.
“I always tell these guys, ‘Hey, you have to stay positive. The biggest part of going through an injury is to stay positive and get back here as soon as you can, but let’s get you back, you’re healthy, we still got plenty of baseball left, and you’re going to help us win games, but we got to get you right.’
“I know it’s frustrating because he feels like he lets the team down and lets me down, but that’s — that’s something that we don’t even think about. I feel for Stephen. He missed all of last year, he felt great, wanted to come back and help us, and then he’s had a rough go so far, but we’ll get him back and once he’s back and he’s healthy, he’s going to help us win games.”
Martinez didn’t have an update or results from the MRI when he spoke with reporters before the third of four with the Braves on Wednesday afternoon.
“We flew him back to get an MRI back in D.C. and to go see Dr. [Robin] West,” Martinez said.
“We have not heard anything yet. So hopefully we’ll get some news here shortly.”
Strasburg wasn’t happy about being pulled off the mound on Tuesday, and Martinez said it has been a frustrating run for the pitcher.
“He was a bit frustrated. Like I said, he came back, he felt good, and then he had these issues with his neck going on yesterday, so he was a bit frustrated.
“So I told him I said, ‘Let’s just go get it checked out and see where we’re at.”
Following the Nationals’ second straight win over the Braves, Martinez provided an update after he got the results of Strasburg’s MRI.
“He had the MRI, he saw Dr. West, and he has a bit of a nerve irritation,” Martinez said.
“It’s coming from his neck,” he explained. “So we’re going to get him so rest and we can go from there, see if we can get him back, see how fast we can get him back. That’s what they deemed it. So, unfortunately it is something, so we just got to monitor it and hopefully get him back as soon as possible.”
Strasburg previously dealt with a nerve issue in his neck back in 2018, diagnosed at the time as a cervical nerve impingement, which followed time off with what was described as an “inflamed right shoulder”. He made just five starts between June 1st and the end of August that summer, before returning for eight starts at the end of the year. Is this the same sort of issue/area?
“I know he’s had something similar to that,” Martinez said, “... but right now, I can’t even tell you if it’s — the report that I got is just a nerve irritation, and they’re going to give him some stuff to kind of ease it up a little bit, and then we’ll go from there.”