The Nationals formally placed Stephen Strasburg on the 15-day injured list today with a stress reaction of his second and third ribs, a diagnosis that doesn’t necessarily offer an optimistic or pessimistic outlook on the right-hander’s timetable to return but is related to the thoracic outlet surgery he had last summer and ensures he’ll be out for a not-insignificant period of time while letting this latest injury heal.
Strasburg is scheduled to fly to Southern California to be examined by specialist Neal ElAttrache, the noted orthopedist who just performed teammate Joe Ross’ second Tommy John surgery last week.
“This surgery, you just don’t know where it’s going to go,” Martinez said of pitchers who have attempted to return from thoracic outlet surgery. “I’ve seen a lot of guys go through this and not come out of it good right away. I’ve seen guys come out of it where they pitch for many years. We’re just going to have to wait. There’s no timeline right now for Stephen. He’s going to go see another specialist, and then we’ll know more.”
Strasburg had just completed a yearlong rehab process from last summer’s career-altering surgery, making his return to a big league mound Thursday night in Miami. Though he gave up seven runs in 4 2/3 innings, with a fastball velocity that averaged 90-91 mph, the 33-year-old was genuinely encouraged with how he felt physically and was prepared to make his next start in five days.
But during a standard bullpen session Saturday, Strasburg noted something didn’t feel right. And on Sunday, shortly after the Nationals announced him as their scheduled starter for tonight’s game against the Braves, he informed the club of this new bout of discomfort, leading to an MRI on Monday.
A stress reaction is a repetitive-use injury, often a precursor to a stress fracture if not treated right away. It rarely requires surgery, only a period of rest to let the bones naturally heal.
Strasburg, who was not present in the Nationals clubhouse the last two days while reporters were in the room, now makes another IL stint, his fifth in the last three seasons and 15th overall in a career that began with such a flourish in 2010. The uncertainty surrounding this one adds a new element to the process, and can’t help but leave team officials wondering if he’ll ever return to consistent form again.
“Honestly, I don’t really want to look at it that way,” Martinez said. “I want to look at it as: He worked really hard to come back. He was able to pitch again in the big leagues, right, even though it was one start. Let’s see what happens after this little stint here, see if we can get him back.
“We all hurt for him, because he worked his butt off to get back and try to help us. And we were so excited that he was out there. It was something else to see him out there pitching again. I just hope and pray he can come back – who knows when, there’s no timetable – but that he can come back again and pitch for us.”
Strasburg’s placement on the IL was only one of a host of transactions the Nationals made before tonight’s game.
With their pitching staff ravaged in recent days, the Nats promoted three fresh arms from Triple-A Rochester: Jackson Tetreault (who makes his major league debut tonight starting in Strasburg’s place), plus relievers Francisco Pérez and Reed Garrett. Pérez is making his fourth stint on the Nationals’ big league roster already this season. Garrett, a Richmond-area native who appeared in 13 games for the Tigers in 2019, joins them for the first time.
Needing to clear two spots on the organization’s 40-man roster in order to call up Tetreault and Garrett, the Nationals transferred reliever Hunter Harvey to the 60-day IL and designated utility man Dee Strange-Gordon for assignment.
The move with Strange-Gordon was toughest for Martinez, who had seen the 34-year-old hit .305 (18-for-59) and steal three bases in 22 games after making the opening day roster off a minor league invitation to spring training. The recent return of Ehire Adrianza from a quadriceps strain, though, severely limited Strange-Gordon’s playing time and left him vulnerable to this move when the need for another pitcher became paramount.
“I love him,” Martinez said. “He was awesome, full of energy. He was just happy to be here. That was a tough one today, talking to him. As I always say selfishly: If you don’t get a job somewhere else, we’d love to have him back. But I think he can help out a lot of teams. We’ll see what happens.”