MIAMI - Stephen Strasburg rejoined the Nationals today and is extremely optimistic he'll be pitching for them again in the near future after receiving a nerve-block injection in his neck two days ago.
"It's very encouraging," the right-hander said. "I think they've kind of crossed all the boxes now, and it seems like it's something that should be good to go, and I'm excited to get back out there with the guys."
Strasburg thought he was on track to do just that when he returned from a six-week stint on the disabled list due to shoulder inflammation, but after struggling in his first start coming out of the All-Star break and experiencing neck pain in the days that followed, he was placed back on the DL.
Strasburg admitted today he had been dealing with tightness in his neck dating back to spring training. For a long time, it wasn't serious enough to prevent him from pitching, but the condition never got better and wound up affecting his shoulder, which is what landed him on the DL in June.
In the days following his start last week against the Braves, Strasburg said he continued to have neck problems. He threw a bullpen session in Milwaukee on Monday and thought he could compensate and pitch through it, but after playing catch on Wednesday, he realized it would be a mistake to make his scheduled start Thursday against the Marlins.
"I did a lot of strength training to get my shoulder strength back over the six weeks, and then once I started to ramp up and get going further the symptoms started to increase again," he said. "The question was, 'Why?' "
Strasburg flew to Los Angeles to be examined by orthopedist Neal ElAttrache, who administered an electromyography test that revealed the original nerve impingement the pitcher was experiencing earlier this season remained. ElAttrache then gave Strasburg a scalene block injection, the benefits of which he immediately experienced.
"Basically, they put me under and they gave me an injection of different medicines, I guess," he said. "I was very happy with the way I felt when I woke up."
Strasburg said this injury isn't related at all to a neck ailment that sidelined him for a period in 2015. That one was a result of altered mechanics that became necessary after he sprained his ankle in spring training. This condition is on the other side of his neck (the right side) and he doesn't believe it had to do with any mechanical glitches.
Strasburg needs to wait 72 hours for the injection to take full effect, but he believes he'll be able to begin throwing as soon as the waiting period is over.
The Nationals aren't ready to say yet when Strasburg might be ready to rejoin the rotation. For now, Tommy Milone (who allowed three runs in five innings in Thursday night's emergency start) will prepare as though he's starting Wednesday against the Mets. Strasburg may not need much more time beyond that to get himself ready.
"I'm hoping sooner rather than later, because it does feel really good, and I think this is the benefit of this," he said. "I think everything's been crossed. All the boxes have been checked. It's something that ... the nerve itself is going to take a little time to heal, but they've at least addressed the pain and symptoms I was getting. So I think they really confirmed with me that this is something that will carry me through the rest of the year and into the offseason. And I'm just really pleased with the way and I'm excited for the opportunity to get back out there soon."
Strasburg admitted it was tough for him to have to go back on the DL just as the Nationals were entering a critical weekend series that could shape the front office's decision-making heading into Tuesday's trade deadline. He also admitted his two starts in last fall's National League Division Series against the Cubs were the biggest highlights of his career to date and something he desperately wants to experience again.
"I want nothing more than to be there in the end and, hopefully, to be pitching in the playoffs," he said.
Update: The Nationals are having all kinds of trouble picking up Trevor Richards' changeup tonight. The Marlins rookie right-hander has tossed five scoreless innings, striking out eight, seven of those on changeups. The Nats' only good scoring opportunity so far came in the top of the first when Trea Turner singled on a popped-up bunt that went over first baseman J.T. Realmuto's head, then stole second and third. But Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman each struck out, and Juan Soto grounded out to end that potential rally.
Gio Gonzalez opened his evening with three scoreless frames agains the Marlins, but then the lefty dug himself into a huge hole in the bottom of the fourth, walking three straight batters to begin the inning. He managed to wriggle his way out of it, allowing only one run, but right now that one run stands as the difference in the game. Nats trail 1-0 in the fifth.