The right-hander had been out since being scratched from his first start on July 25 due to a right wrist impingement, which was causing tingling in his thumb. Max Scherzer is back on the schedule after his last start went only 27 pitches due to a sore right hamstring. He is expected back tomorrow night at New York. With Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez working, and Austin Voth contributing from the fifth starter’s spot, Rizzo liked the way the next two weeks set up for his starting five in the rotation.
“They give us a chance to win each and every time they go on the mound,” Rizzo said Sunday during a pregame Zoom video call. “So when those guys are on the mound, we feel good about our chances. It just gives us more depth. These guys are high, high quality, elite type of pitchers that we’re talking about.”
The Nats and Strasburg were careful in his rehab, building him up to 32 pitches before his start against the Orioles yesterday. For the first four innings, Strasburg was pitching like himself, albeit without high mid-90s velocity; topping out at 93 mph. But he was doing a nice job of mixing in his changeup and getting his curveball to come back into the zone and be almost unhittable. The Orioles were held to two hits through those four innings.
Then, the Orioles found their groove against Strasburg, connecting on five hits in the fifth including two-run double for Hanser Alberto and a two-run single by Anthony Santander. The scoreless tie had quickly turned into a 5-0 Orioles lead and Strasburg’s day was done after 69 pitches. Manager Davey Martinez said the Nationals were hoping to get him to around 70 to 80 pitches.
“I think it’s more like not so much the amount of pitches, but more like the up and downs, get hot and then sit down for a bit,” Strasburg said during his postgame Zoom video call. “That’s always been something that’s more impactful on my body and stuff. Went out there for the fifth, gave it everything I had and wasn’t very good. But it is what it is.”
But coupled with the fatigue factor and the steamy conditions, the most important moment of the Zoom call was Strasburg admitting that his hand did not feel 100 percent - and that was starting to bother him more as the day unfolded.
“To be honest, I felt it,” he said. “I don’t know if it was necessarily like fatigue or just not having necessarily the stamina built up quite yet. But it’s something where I don’t think I’m doing any long-term harm on it. But it does have an impact on being able to throw the baseball and being able to commit to pitches. That’s something I haven’t quite figured out how to pitch through it yet, so I think the goal is to continue to get built up and get the pitch count up to where that won’t be flaring up over the course of the start.”
Strasburg believes that the way his hand felt as the game went on is something that he will have to deal with in his next start. He admitted that the wrist and thumb issues are not something that went away with rest and rehab.
“It’s going to be a process,” Strasburg said. “I think for the most part, I’m symptom-free and that’s a positive. Now it’s just kind of like, trying to commit to it, trying to trust the stuff now because I think when you try to grind out certain things like this, especially when it’s in your arm or in your throwing motion, as much as you try to maintain your mechanics and maintain your finish on your pitches, I think your body tells you to stop. So again, it’s something where I’ve just got to kind of work through it, and the more reps I get, the sharper I’ll get.”
Strasburg and the Nats hope that more reps will be the answer. But there is concern that this issue with his wrist and thumb will linger and that the problem ultimately will start to eat away at his effectiveness like it did in the fifth inning Sunday. Strasburg remains optimistic he can work through this uncomfortable feeling in his hand.
“I know it’ll only get better,” Strasburg said. “It’s just going to be something that I think in general you kind of see around baseball that a lot of guys are going down. It is a tall task for all of us to kind of get back there in the big league games and try to go out there and be at your best. But it’s what we signed up for, and we’re going to go out there and give everything we have. I think it’s a good place to start for me and get some good work in in between and hopefully tighten things up a little bit for the next one.”