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Washington Nationals’ 2023 Rotation: The Stephen Strasburg mystery

What do the Nationals expect to get from Stephen Strasburg in 2023?

Washington Nationals v. Miami Marlins Photo by Kelly Gavin/MLB Photos via Getty Images

In discussing the situation the club finds itself in with Stephen Strasburg, who worked his way back from surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome to make one start in the majors this season before he ended up on the Injured List again with a stress reaction in his second and third ribs, GM Mike Rizzo told reporters in an end of the year Q&A that he was not sure what the club will get going forward, which makes sense considering the pitcher told the Washington Post’s Jesse Dougherty recently he is not sure if he’ll be able to pitch again.

“Every time I’ve had an injury, I felt like I was going to be the best there is coming back,” Strasburg told the WaPost reporter in mid-September.

“This is the one that’s still definitely a big question mark.”

“I realize the clock is ticking,” the 34-year-old, 13-year veteran said.

“It’s been almost three years since I’ve been able to pitch competitively, and it’s not like I’m getting younger.”

In the last three seasons, after he helped the Nats win the first World Series by a D.C.-based team since 1924 in 2019, and signed a 7-year/$245M free agent deal, the 2009 No. 1 overall pick has made just eight starts and has thrown just 31 13 innings in the majors.

So what, if anything, does the team expect to get from the starter in 2023?

“I don’t know,” Rizzo acknowledged in his talk with reporters on Tuesday in Citi Field, where the Nationals wrapped up the 2022 season on Wednesday. “That’s a good question. It’s still a little bit of a mystery. I know that he’s working hard strengthening his core and the other parts of his body. We’re just going to have to see with the type of surgery and rehab that he had, it’s unfamiliar to us, it’s unfamiliar to a lot of people, and we’re going to have to take it day by day. It’s something that I know Stras is working extremely hard in doing what he can do, and then we’ll have to see [where] the rehab process takes us later in the winter. We’re going to monitor him, and he’s local, so we’ll see him all the time, and we’ll see where he’s at going into Spring Training mode.”

If you found the above disheartening, you are not alone.

On Wednesday morning, 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies focused in on the GM in the nation’s capital referring to the right-hander who is due $35M in 2023 as a “mystery” in the talk with reporters previous day.

“Well we’re going to monitor him throughout the offseason and the winter and then we’ll see what happens when he comes to [Spring Training],” Rizzo told the Junkies when asked about expectations for 2023.

“That’s where I’m going to set my expectations. If he comes back feeling good, I’ll feel a little bit more optimistic about it.

“But right now it’s just the unknown of this rehabilitation is something that we’re not familiar with and we’re going to have to kind of go on a case-by-case basis and see where he is at in Spring Training.

“It’s not the end of the world. He’s working extremely hard and we’ll see how his body reacts.”

If Strasburg continues to have issues, the GM was asked, is there another option for the pitcher, who had season-ending surgery for carpal tunnel neuritis in ‘20 before the TOS surgery in 2021, and the setback this season?

“I think if he comes back and he’s still having the numbness in his hand and that type of thing, which was the cause and effect of the surgery, then we’ll have to — the doctors will have to put their heads together and see what the course of action is,” Rizzo explained.

“But hopefully once the rib portion of this injury heals, and he starts his workout program again he won’t feel the tingles in his fingers again, and he’ll be pain free.

“To me that’s the goal here, is to be pain-free and then start his baseball rehabilitation once you’re totally pain-free and ready to throw.”

So … one of the Junkies asked … is he still not pain-free?

“I think he’s pain-free, but he hasn’t done any baseball activities yet,” Rizzo said.

Considering all he’s dealt with over the last few years, (including the death of his father), how is Strasburg handling it all?

“I think he’s been great,” Rizzo said. “We see him at the ballpark, he’s in the dugout during the games, and he’s cruising around the clubhouse trying to be positive and help the young players, especially the young pitchers. I think that his attitude has been great.”