The visuals during Stephen Strasburg’s last start weren’t promising. A camera at Busch Stadium in St. Louis showed the right-handed starter in the tunnel toward the clubhouse feeling the area between his shoulder and neck in apparent discomfort.
That, plus Strasburg’s significant drop in velocity and overall poor outing — allowing eight hits, eight runs and five walks in four innings — gave cause for concern that Strasburg wasn’t healthy. But the message after that game was clear: Strasburg’s dip in velocity was nothing more than a mechanical quirk, and manager Dave Martinez said trainers didn’t notice anything wrong with Strasburg.
The Nationals placed Strasburg on the 10-day disabled list Sunday morning, though, adding to the team’s injury issues on its pitching staff. But Martinez maintains Strasburg’s right shoulder inflammation wasn’t a result of that April 13 outing.
Instead, Strasburg went through his usual between-start routine, and after throwing a bullpen a few days earlier, Strasburg felt discomfort in his shoulder. That’s when Washington opted to have Strasburg undergo an MRI that revealed “some inflammation,” Martinez said. And when it comes to Strasburg, any risk isn’t worth pushing through.
“He’s such an important piece to our club that we want to make sure this goes away, and he comes back and he feels good,” Martinez said. “And the only thing he needs to focus on is getting hitters out. You know, I don’t want him out there thinking about his mechanics, thinking about his shoulder. We want him going out there feeling good about himself. When he does that, you see what he can do.”
Strasburg did that in his first outing, allowing one hit and two walks in six scoreless innings while striking out eight batters. But the 32-year-old hit a snag last week against the Cardinals, with his fastball velocity hovering around 91 mph.
Martinez said there’s no timetable for when Strasburg comes back, but he hopes it’s soon. He doesn’t want to rush Strasburg, though, especially considering his injury history.
Strasburg missed all but five innings of the 2020 season, undergoing carpal tunnel surgery. He returned in spring training on a normal timetable, ramping up for a full season again. But his return was complicated due to his long layoff ahead of the season — as well as a coronavirus outbreak that delayed Washington’s season opener.
That may have played a factor in the flurry of injuries that have struck the Nationals’ pitching staff. Reliever Wander Suero was placed on the 10-day injured list Sunday with a left oblique strain, although Martinez said that injury doesn’t appear to be too series. Suero’s breathing without difficult.
There’s also Luis Avilan, who tore his UCL. Martinez said the 31-year-old reliever is weighing his options between Tommy John surgery and attempting to rehab the injury. Avilan’s elbow injury comes after he threw 38 and 39 pitches in back-to-back games last week.
To replace Avilan and Suero, the Nationals called up Kyle McGowin and Ryne Harper to the bullpen.
Washington could receive boosts in the form of Will Harris and Jon Lester soon. Harris, the 36-year-old reliever, was originally misdiagnosed with a blood clot in his arm during spring training. He still opened the season on the injured list, but he’s working back toward a return. Harris threw a 26-pitch bullpen Sunday, and Martinez said he’ll have another throwing session Tuesday.
Lester missed the beginning of the season on the coronavirus protocol list, and he’s stretching back out. Lester is set to throw a five-inning, 80-pitch simulated game Tuesday.
But until they return, Harris and Lester are just two more unavailable pitchers on a growing list. Strasburg is the biggest name among them, with his right shoulder inflammation something Washington wants completely healed so it doesn’t compound into something more troublesome.
“I hope that we can nip this in the bud as soon as possible and we get him back as soon as possible,” Martinez said. “We’ve got a whole year in front of us. This is only the beginning, so we’ve got plenty of time. We just want to make sure we get him right.”
• Andy Kostka can be reached at email@example.com.
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