A frustrating 21 months since being named the 2019 World Series Most Valuable Player continues for Stephen Strasburg, who once again experienced neck pain while throwing during his latest bullpen session.
The veteran right-hander was able to throw a bullpen session and then long toss earlier this week, but his second bullpen session caused more discomfort in his neck and forced the Nationals to keep him from throwing for now while they try to work out the next steps.
"So Strasburg, once again, he had an uncomfortable feeling in his neck, so we backed him down again and now we're going to have to figure something else out for him," manager Davey Martinez said this afternoon during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. "I know they're going to look at some different options, see if we can find another specialist for him to go see. But as of right now, this continues to happen to him, so we need to figure something else out for him.
"It's unfortunate, I know he's trying really hard to get back on that mound and continue to come back. But like I said before, when we get Strasburg back, I want him back fully healthy. So we're going to weigh all options here. But as of right now, we kind of backed him down a little bit and then we'll see what happens in the next few days."
Strasburg has been on the 10-day injured list with a neck strain since June 2 and spent some time on the IL earlier in the season with right shoulder inflammation. He also suffered a setback in his recovery from this injury when he felt the same discomfort while throwing a simulated game when the team was in San Diego earlier this month. This is coming on the heels of a shortened 2020 season in which Strasburg only made two starts due to carpal tunnel neuritis surgery.
With these injured list stints combined, Strasburg has only pitched 26 2/3 innings since inking a seven-year, $245 million contract to return to Washington after leading the team to its first World Series title.
Now he's still dealing with the same nagging, "achy" pain in his neck.
"It's still the same kind of pain," Martinez said, looking sad and frustrated for his starting pitcher. "Like I said after talking to him, he's frustrated because he's worked so hard. So I told him, I said, 'Look, we just gotta figure out what it is and we'll go from there. We've been here before, so I know it's been a bumpy road for you and I know you want to come back and pitch.' The biggest thing is he has to stay positive. He's gotta understand that it's unfortunate, but as I always tell him, I would love to have him back, but when I get him back, I want him to be healthy."
The other frustrating part to this equation is not only the return of the pain, but also the fact that the Nats don't know what's causing it. Solving that mystery is now the No. 1 priority for Strasburg.
"We gotta figure out what really is causing this," Martinez said. "Like I said, he can go out in two days or three days and play long toss, get himself ready to throw again and what's to say that it doesn't happen again to him? So we've been through this process a few times already. It just happens to keep coming back, it keeps getting irritated. So we need to figure out what's next for him medically. I know he's talked to our trainers, they're looking and weighing options, looking at different physicians and medical staff and see if we can pinpoint what's going on."
Maybe the one sliver of good news is that it doesn't seem to be a mechanical issue. Martinez confirmed that Strasburg and pitching coach Jim Hickey have worked on the right-hander's mechanics on the mound and he's been able to throw the ball well.
"Him and Hickey have been diligent on his mechanics," Martinez said. "I know the last few times he threw, and I can say that I watched him throw the last couple of bullpens and the ball was coming out fine and he looked good. He was standing with his legs a little bit better. I know they talk about him standing a little bit taller and he did that. But you know, like I said, the next day he comes back and his neck area, his trap area is sore. So we have to figure out why that is."
For now, that's all Strasburg and the Nationals can do while seeking another opinion from another specialist. Until that's done, there's no real timeline for when Strasburg can resume throwing again, much less take the mound.
"Yeah, I've never put a timeline on what he does," Martinez said. "Like I said, it's just a matter of him going through the process. We've hit this hurdle before and he's had this discomfort before. He had it again. You know, it doesn't bother him, he goes out and throws long toss and stuff and he feels OK. When he throws a bullpen, it irritates him some. So we need to figure that out."
Note: Major League Baseball, in agreement with the MLB Players Association, announced today that Starlin Castro's administrative leave has been extended for an additional seven days, through July 29. Castro was placed on administrative leave last Friday by MLB under the Joint MLB-MLBPA Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy while the league investigates an allegation that he committed domestic violence.