The Nationals are a day closer to Sunday’s game, but they are no closer to naming their starting pitcher for that afternoon’s series finale against the Reds.
Stephen Strasburg continues to progress well from the upper back strain that prevented him from making his last two starts, and the right-hander has expressed his desire to take the mound. The club, though, has yet to decide whether to give the ball to Strasburg or to take the more cautious route and give rookie Lucas Giolito his second career start instead.
“We don’t know,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I talked to Stras yesterday, and he said he’s feeling pretty good. So we’ll see. He’s expecting to take (the ball), I can tell you that. But we’ll see.”
Strasburg has thrown off a bullpen mound twice this week and reported no problems, signs he should be good to go. But he also threw off a mound last week in Milwaukee and thought he’d be able to start as scheduled before the back issue resurfaced the following day, forcing another scratching.
There is a growing time element to this decision. Strasburg hasn’t pitched in 16 days. If he misses another start, the Nationals might have no choice but to send him on a minor league rehab assignment before sending him back to the mound in a big league game. That could delay his return until after the All-Star break, possibly preventing him from pitching in the Midsummer Classic in his hometown of San Diego.
“We just wouldn’t want him to get too far away from game activities, and then it could take you 2-3 starts to get back to where you were before,” Baker said. “Which would hurt us and maybe hurt him.”
At the same time, the Nationals want to be cautious with a pitcher they just signed to a $175 million extension, not wanting what appeared initially to be a minor ailment to turn into a long-term problem like another upper back strain became in 2015.
It seems pretty clear Strasburg believes he’s ready to return, and wants to return. But his isn’t the only opinion that matters in this case.
“You guys are coming to me, wanting me to tell you what the decision is,” he said. “And I don’t make the decision. So I’m doing everything I can to get back.”
Ultimately, this may come down to how much the Nationals are willing to let Strasburg have the final say.
“He told me he felt good,” Baker said. “How do you keep a guy on the shelf if he says he feels good? You don’t do it.”
Update: The Nationals announced that the start of tonight’s game has been delayed due to rain. So no 6:05 p.m. first pitch after all ...
Update II: First pitch will now be at 6:40 p.m.