At various points in his career, Stephen Strasburg has missed time with injuries to his elbow, back, neck, lat and oblique. Only once, though, has he missed any time due to a shoulder injury, and that one was as minor as they get.
You have to go all the way back to the night of July 28, 2010, the night a rookie Strasburg had trouble getting loose in the bullpen and had to be scratched minutes before scheduled first pitch against the Braves, replaced by journeyman Miguel Batista, who would brilliantly refer to himself afterward as “Miss Iowa” to the dismay of a crowd expecting to see “Miss Universe.”
Strasburg was back on the mound two weeks later after a minimal stint on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. He appeared to have dodged a bullet - only to tear the ligament in his elbow two weeks after that and require Tommy John surgery.
In the eight years since, Strasburg has come to understand what kind of discomfort in his elbow or his back or neck is cause for concern. He has very little frame of reference, though, for discomfort in his shoulder. And so the right-hander was understandably noncommittal about what he now faces after departing tonight’s start only two innings and 35 pitches in the books.
“I’m trying not to forecast anything,” he said following the Nationals’ 9-5 loss to the Giants. “I think I’m just going to get an MRI tomorrow and take it from there.”
The Nationals hope to have a clearer picture of Strasburg’s ailment once he gets that MRI in the morning. For now, manager Davey Martinez referred to the injury as “a little bit of inflammation” and will wait for test results to make any more definitive statement than that.
“I want to get the results of the MRI tomorrow before we make any conclusions,” Martinez said. “Hopefully it’s nothing at all, just a little tightness, little inflammation, and we can take care of it and we can go from there.”
Strasburg didn’t suffer from any significant drop in velocity tonight, nor in his recent starts. But those who have watched him enough over the years to pick up on discrepancies certainly noticed he hasn’t looked totally comfortable on the mound over the last month or so.
Strasburg finally admitted as much tonight.
“I think it’s just been something that’s been a gradual process,” he said. “It’s been affecting me more and more over the last three, four starts. It’s a tough one to gauge, because you want to go out and do your part. But today it just acted up on me a little more than the other ones. Davey decided to pull the plug.”
Martinez said he noticed Strasburg walk off the mound with his head down after the top of the second tonight, so he asked director of athletic training Paul Lessard to check on him in the dugout. Strasburg said his shoulder was “a little tight,” so Martinez went to speak directly to his starter.
“He wanted to go back out and pitch,” the manager said, “and I said no.”
As Shawn Kelley entered from the bullpen to pitch the top of the third, Strasburg retreated to the clubhouse and a sellout crowd of 41,591 murmured and wondered what ailment befell the oft-injured hurler this time.
Through all this, Strasburg has been effective, if not dominant. He has a 3.29 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over his last seven starts. So even though he admittedly had been dealing with some discomfort during this stretch, he couldn’t say he made a mistake in trying to pitch through it.
“It’s tough,” he said. “Like I said, I don’t expect to feel 100 percent every time. Whatever percent I’m at, I’m going to go out there and give it everything I have. Unfortunately, today it just seemed to increase.”
The Nationals have spent the season’s first two-plus months trying to overcome a swath of injuries to their lineup, assured if nothing else that they could always rely on their stellar rotation to keep them in the mix in the National League East. But now they’ve lost both Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson (hamstring) to injuries in their last four games, and they seem all but certain to need to summon their farm system for help in the near future.
But until they learn more about Strasburg’s first shoulder ailment in eight years, they won’t know for certain what they now face.
“I mean, in the grand scheme of things I’ll be OK, but it’s frustrating,” Strasburg said. “Hopefully we’ll get some answers the next couple days.”