On Strasburg's status and tonight's draft lottery

SAN DIEGO – The Nationals, as they made abundantly clear Monday, are in the market for a starting pitcher. They would love to acquire a proven arm who can make 30-plus starts next season and take pressure off the organization’s three projected young starters.

Those young starters – MacKenzie Gore, Cade Cavalli, Josiah Gray – all will open the season in the rotation, provided they’re all healthy. And manager Davey Martinez said Monday all three are healthy and will be full-go for spring training.

Martinez also said Patrick Corbin is part of the 2023 rotation, looking for a major bounce back after a dreadful 2022 season on the heels of a dreadful 2021 season.

So, in theory, that’s a five-man rotation right there, with the expected new addition joining the four holdovers.

What, though, about Stephen Strasburg? Is it even conceivable he’s part of the mix? For now, the Nationals are making no such proclamations. Neither are they ruling out the possibility, though.

As has unfortunately been the case for too long now, Strasburg remains in a category all of his own, still trying to rehab his way back from thoracic outlet surgery and its subsequent side effects, guaranteed of nothing but determined not to give up.

“We’re not putting any timetables or any mileposts that he has to pass,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We’re going to be very cautious with him and just make sure that when he does get back, he feels good about himself. Until then, we’re just going to rehab him and watch his progress.”

Strasburg, who after a lengthy rehab program made only one start last season before landing back on the injured list, has not yet begun throwing, according to Rizzo. His work remains confined to “strengthening and stretching,” the GM said.

At some point, though, he will need to try to begin throwing again, first off flat ground from a short distance, then from a greater distance, then eventually off a mound. In theory, that could all happen in the weeks leading up to spring training. But nobody’s saying that’s actually going to happen at this point.

Martinez continues to believe Strasburg could make a full recovery and pitch effectively again after three straight years all but lost to injury. The 34-year-old right-hander still remains under contract through the 2026 season, still owed roughly $175 million of the $245 million he received on his new deal after winning World Series MVP honors in 2019.

“I’m not going to put any more pressure on Strasburg,” Martinez said. “I know he’s rehabbing right now. He’s progressing. When he’s ready and we deem he’s ready, it’s going to be awesome to see him out on that mound. I promise the fans that when he does step on the mound, it will be at home. When he does that, we’ll start him at home.”

* Major League Baseball’s first draft lottery will be held at 8:30 p.m. Eastern tonight, and the Nationals will be front and center for the festivities.

Owners of the sport’s worst record this season, they would’ve been guaranteed the No. 1 pick in next summer’s draft under the league rules that had been in place for a half-century. But under pressure by the MLB Players Association to discourage teams from purposely tanking, MLB changed the rules to create this new lottery system that gives every team that missed the playoffs an opportunity to land the No. 1 pick.

The Nationals, Athletics and Pirates all have the best odds, but that’s still only a mere 16.5 percent chance. Each subsequent team that missed the postseason has decreased odds to draft first from there.

The Nats are guaranteed only of picking somewhere among the top-seven choices, and in fact they have a better chance of getting the No. 7 pick (19 percent) than the No. 1 pick.

“You’d rather have your choice of any player in the draft, but the seventh pick would be one of the highest picks that we’ve ever had,” said Rizzo, whose team has held a better draft position five times in club history (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2022). “We hope to do a lot of damage with one through seven, whichever one we get.”

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