More than a week removed from his latest start cut short by injury, Stephen Strasburg remains shut down from throwing and may be headed to see another specialist, who will attempt to figure out what precisely is causing the nerve irritation in his neck that has shelved the right-hander once again.
Strasburg, who last pitched June 1 in Atlanta, was placed on the 10-day injured list with what the Nationals initially termed a neck strain. He flew home to Washington for an MRI, which revealed nerve irritation in the neck, an ailment that limited him to 22 starts in 2018.
Unlike the first time he went on the IL in April (with right shoulder inflammation), it doesn’t appear Strasburg will resume a throwing program soon. For the time being, he is restricted only to lower body exercises, according to manager Davey Martinez.
“We’ve definitely got to evaluate him,” Martinez said during his Zoom session with reporters before tonight’s game in St. Petersburg, Fla. “Right now, it’s nerve irritation. We want it to go away, quiet down a little bit, and we’ll go from there.”
Martinez did say there’s “a good chance” Strasburg will travel to visit with another specialist in the next few days, though he couldn’t offer any specifics about what that specialist would be looking for.
“Actually, I couldn’t even tell you that,” the manager said. “It’s just another follow-up from what we had before. We just want to make sure that whatever irritation he has in that nerve, it continues to get better.”
Whatever ultimately is found to be wrong with Strasburg, it’s clear something has been wrong for some time. The 32-year-old has made five starts this season, only two of them effective: He tossed six scoreless innings against the Braves in his April 7 debut, then shut out the Orioles over 5 1/3 innings in his May 21 return from his first IL stint.
Strasburg’s velocity has been down throughout the season, most notably in the starts that immediately preceded his placement on the IL. He also could be seen maneuvering his neck and shoulder in both of those outings, clearly uncomfortable in some manner.
Strasburg hasn’t spoken to reporters since his May 27 start against the Reds, but he has referred to his struggles as a byproduct of poor mechanics more than physical ailments.
What is clear at this point is that the Nationals don’t intend to rush their $245 million pitcher back to the mound. Since winning World Series MVP honors on the heels of a career-best 2019 season in which he led the league with 209 innings pitched, Strasburg has made only seven starts, going 1-3 with a 5.74 ERA, 1.463 WHIP and averaging fewer than four innings per outing.
Needing to fill his spot in the rotation for the foreseeable future, the Nationals appear ready to activate Erick Fedde off the COVID-19 IL in time to start Friday night’s game against the Giants. For now, their starter for that game is unnamed, but the right-hander (who tossed seven scoreless innings against the Diamondbacks in his last start on May 16 before testing positive) has rejoined the club in St. Petersburg and is on a schedule that would line him up to pitch Friday.
The Nationals did announce the rest of their rotation plans for the weekend series with the Giants. Max Scherzer will start Thursday night in the first game since 2019 with full capacity permitted at Nationals Park. Joe Ross is slated for Saturday’s game, with Jon Lester taking the mound Sunday.