Ross getting another MRI, Strasburg pleased with rehab start

Though Stephen Strasburg emerged from his first minor league rehab start encouraged about the way his arm felt and is ready to continue progressing toward his return to the Nationals rotation, Joe Ross did not enjoy the same outcome after experiencing tightness in his surgically repaired elbow during his outing.

Both Strasburg and Ross were scheduled to throw four innings or 60 pitches in their first competitive game appearances of the season. Strasburg reached his pitch limit after only 2 2/3 innings. Ross never got there, getting pulled after his elbow tightened up during the third inning, with his pitch total reaching only 31.

Both pitchers were back at Nationals Park today, and Ross was headed to get an MRI on his elbow, with manager Davey Martinez admitting concern given the right-hander’s injury history. Ross had Tommy John surgery in 2017, then missed the second half of the 2021 season when a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament was discovered, then had arthroscopic surgery in March to remove a bone spur in the elbow.

“It’s a concern, because it’s his elbow again,” Martinez said. “But I don’t want to jump to any conclusions until we get the MRI back.”

Martinez said Ross showed no signs of trouble during his first two innings at Double-A Harrisburg, with his fastball topping out at 95 mph. But there was a drop in velocity during the third inning, and after he returned to the dugout he told the coaching staff his elbow was tight, at which point the decision was made not to send him back to the mound for another inning.

“I think they saw his velo drop a little bit, and I think he might have said something to them,” Martinez said. “I don’t know the whole story about it, but what we do know he is he was sore. He came back here last night. The doctor looked at him, and then they want to get an MRI to see what’s going on.” 

The news was far more encouraging for Strasburg, even if the actual results during his game with Single-A Fredericksburg (three runs on three hits, four walks, three strikeouts and two wild pitches in 2 2/3 innings) weren’t impressive. The 33-year-old was most pleased by how he felt physically during the start and how he felt the day after.

“It’s normal soreness today, which is good,” he said in the Nationals clubhouse prior to today’s series finale against the Dodgers. “I feel like once I get to that point where I’m sore after an outing, that usually seems to build better and better after that. So it’s been a long time coming.”

Strasburg hadn’t pitched in a competitive game since June 1, 2021, the last of his five starts last season before learning he needed surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. He made only two starts during the abbreviated 2020 season before having surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Strasburg, whose fastball Tuesday topped out at 94 mph, will remain on a standard five-day schedule, with his next start potentially coming Sunday for Fredericksburg and his workload possibly increased to five innings or 75 pitches. He says his priority at this point is both building up his arm as he would in spring training but also refining his pitches to the point he can start expecting positive results.

“Ultimately, that just comes with reps, and the more times you go out there the better it gets,” he said. “It was good last night, because I finally started to see more of my stuff come back. Now it’s like: Rein it in a little better and go from there.”

Strasburg isn’t putting any firm timetable on his season debut. The earliest it appears he could pitch for the Nationals would be June 8, but the club may decide he needs more time to get himself fully ready. Pitchers are allowed up to 30 days on a minor league rehab assignment.

“I’m not the one making the call when I’m pitching up here again, but I feel good today and I’m going to continue working on what I need to work on,” he said. “They talk about focusing on the process. That never changes as a pitcher, no matter if you’re healthy from day one or coming back like I am. You just have to keep looking big picture and getting better every day.”

* The Nationals, as is the case with all major league clubs, will again hold a moment of silence before today's and Thursday’s games in honor of the victims of Tuesday’s elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. They also will continue to fly their ballpark flags at half-staff through Sunday.

Asked today if he had thoughts he wanted to share about the shooting, Martinez immediately turned emotional and had to fight back tears.

“Honestly, it’s freaking awful. It really is,” the manager said. “I didn’t want to talk about because, you know ... my condolences to the families, those poor kids. It’s not right. It really isn’t. Something needs to change.”

Asked what needs to change, Martinez replied: “I mean, obviously, the gun control. We need to do something in this country before it gets any worse. It’s not good.”

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