Davey Martinez broke the bad news on the first day of Spring Training this past Wednesday, telling reporters Stephen Strasburg suffered another setback in his rehab from the surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome he underwent in 2021.
Strasburg, 34, helped Washington win the first World Series by a D.C.-based ballclub since 1924 in 2019, and signed a 7-year/$245M free agent deal after briefly testing the free agent market the following winter, but has taken the mound just eight times and thrown just 31 1⁄3 innings in the majors in the last three seasons, while he has dealt with a variety of injuries.
As he was rehabbing from last season’s setback, which happened once he’d finally worked his way back from TOS surgery, and made one start in the majors, the nerve issue cropped up again, and the Nats decided to shut Strasburg down and sent him to get another round of tests done to see why the issues persist.
“If anybody worked hard, Stephen worked his butt off, I mean he really did,” Martinez said, “... this whole winter. He got to the point where he was throwing bullpens and he had a minor setback. So he’s staying back in D.C. Right now there’s no timetable. He’s going to stay back there, he’s going to rehab. And then we’ll see what happens.
“But, man, this guy he’s put the time in, that’s for sure, and I know in his heart he wants to pitch. And I can’t wait until the day that – if he does pitch – that he’s going to come back and pitch for us.”
GM Mike Rizzo discussed Strasburg’s latest setback on Friday, getting emotional at times as he spoke from the club’s Spring Training facilities in West Palm Beach, FL. Rizzo became the General Manager in D.C. the year the club drafted Strasburg, oversaw his development over his first few seasons in the organization, shut him down in 2012 in a move he thought was in Strasburg’s (and the club’s) best interest, signed him to an extension in 2016, and a seven-year deal/$245M deal after the right-hander won the World Series MVP in ‘19, and has been there over the last three years as the starter has worked to get back on the mound.
So you can understand why Rizzo got emotional. He was not, however, surprised Strasburg had a setback. It was something they thought might happen.
“To me personally, it was not unexpected,” Rizzo explained.
“It was something that was always in the possibility-range. This is kind of uncharted territory at least for me and our organization. You’ve got a difficult injury, a unique surgery, with the underlying health issues Stras has had with his elbow and his shoulder and that type of thing. So, we have to really be patient with him, it’s going to take time, but as far as expecting him to be ready to go at the beginning of Spring Training or break camp with the team, that was never anything on my expectation list. It’s something that we’re hopeful he can regain the strength and confidence to perform again, but the thing I feel bad about is Stras.”
Strasburg’s been a highly-regarded prospect, he was a No. 1 overall pick, and when healthy, he’s been one of the best pitchers in the game, which makes it all the more frustrating that he’s been unable to compete for the better part of the last three seasons.
“You’re talking about one of the best big-game pitchers that’s ever pitched. The best big-game pitcher the Nationals have ever had, and anywhere in baseball,” Rizzo continued.
“So you’re talking about an ultra-competitor, wasn’t afraid of anything, [wasn’t afraid] to take the ball in the toughest, most unique situations and perform admirably.
“And kind of we built this franchise on the back of him, and I just feel bad that he can’t relish [going] into the end of his career gracefully and that type of thing, and he just feels terrible about it.”
It’s even more frustrating considering the pitcher and club believed he was making solid progress this winter, before the latest setback.
“I saw him throw a couple times in D.C. in the cages, and it was good to see him throw pain-free. And he was obviously nowhere near ready for competition. But throwing pain-free was the first thing,” Rizzo said.
“And then when we got the call the nerve was acting up again, it was something that was not unexpected, but still, the news of that never feels good.”
So Strasburg is shut down again, he’s headed back to see the doctors, and his future is up in the air once more as everyone waits to see what comes out of the latest round of visits.
“Our medical people are seeing him, our orthopedics are seeing him, we’re going to seek second opinions on him again with doctors that have worked with him in the past,” Rizzo said.
“We’re going to take it day by day, literally day by day. We’ll get all the opinions. We’ll sit down with Stras, and make out a game plan.”