The mystery that is the discomfort in Stephen Strasburg’s neck will take an additional turn Monday, when the Washington Nationals starting pitcher visits another specialist to try to first identify — then find a solution for — the nerve irritation that has held him out for two months.
Strasburg landed on the injured list June 2 with nerve irritation in his neck, one day after he threw 1 1/3 innings against the Atlanta Braves, struggling with command while his velocity dipped.
The following weeks have been full of ramp-ups and back-downs. Strasburg neared a rehab start shortly before the All-Star Break, but that plan was put on hold when he felt the same discomfort in his neck. After he built his way back to short bullpen sessions this week, the Nationals had to slow Strasburg’s pace once more.
Manager Dave Martinez said ahead of Sunday’s series finale against the Baltimore Orioles that the first priority with Strasburg is to discern what the actual problem is for Strasburg. There’s confusion as to why the 33-year-old can throw long toss without issue yet feels discomfort in his neck once he takes the mound.
Washington hopes this latest visit to a specialist will answer that question while also providing a path forward.
“It’s more of a comfort thing,” Martinez said. “Like I said, he felt uncomfortable after his bullpen sessions, so now we just want him to go see a specialist and see why this is happening. It doesn’t happen to him when he plays long toss. But after he has a bullpen, he feels discomfort up in his neck area. The best thing to do now is have him see somebody else to pinpoint what it is, if it’s anything or if it’s just a muscle thing.”
Since Strasburg was named the 2019 World Series MVP — and since the right-hander signed a seven-year, $245 million contract the following December — Strasburg has faced a series of maladies. He missed all but 5 innings of the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season because he needed carpal tunnel surgery.
This year, Strasburg has faced two stints on the injured list. The first was for a right shoulder strain, spanning between April and May. The second has been ongoing since early June, with no solution apparent.
Given Strasburg’s injury history, Washington has opted for a cautious approach with this and each recovery process. But if the specialist doesn’t see anything clearly wrong — or clearly fixable — the plan for Strasburg might change.
“We’re hoping that’s not a path we have to go down,” Martinez said. “But if he goes to see someone and they don’t deem anything wrong, a muscle thing, we’ll have to come up with another gameplan for him. But like I said, I don’t want to speculate on anything until he sees a doctor, and then we’ll go from there.”
Elsewhere in the Nationals’ injury-stricken starting rotation, Max Scherzer — who was scratched from Saturday’s start with right triceps discomfort — threw in the outfield Sunday. Martinez said Scherzer will need to throw a bullpen and feel fine before making his next scheduled start.
And Joe Ross will be activated off the injured list to start Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Ross has thrown several extended bullpens since he went on the injured list in early July with elbow discomfort, and Martinez said the results in those sessions have checked the necessary boxes to bring Ross back without a rehab start. There won’t be any limitations Monday for Ross.
“We often talk about Joe because he missed all of last year, and about how much we can get out of him this year. And I talked to [pitching coach Jim] Hickey, I talked to him about, if he went down on a rehab assignment, it’s kind of just like wasting bullets, you know? There’s only so many innings. We gotta be careful how many innings he does pitch.”
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