There are still several more steps he’ll need to take - critical steps - before he’s ready to pitch for the Nationals, but Stephen Strasburg took an important one today when he threw 32 pitches off the bullpen mound and had no complaints afterward about his neck.
“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow, but he threw the ball well,” manager Davey Martinez said in his Zoom session with reporters prior to tonight’s series opener against the Marlins. “The ball came out fairly well and we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
This development came only two days after Martinez revealed Strasburg had experienced discomfort in his neck following his first attempt to pitch to live hitters July 9 in San Francisco. The club decided to dial back the right-hander’s rehab after that and didn’t want to put him back on a mound again until it was clear he was fine.
Strasburg made some progress over the weekend, though, while throwing pain-free on flat ground, so the Nationals decided to get him back on a mound now and not wait longer.
“He was playing long-toss again and he felt a lot better,” Martinez said. “The pain had subsided. So we got him back on the mound and kind of got him back quickly, just so he wouldn’t lose what he’s already gained. But let’s see how he feels tomorrow.”
Strasburg has been out since June 2 with nerve irritation in his neck, his second stint on the injured list this season and third the last two seasons. The 2019 World Series MVP has made only seven starts since signing a new $245 million contract, averaging fewer than four innings per outing.
At a time when their rotation has struggled to provide both quality and volume, the Nationals desperately need a healthy Strasburg if they have visions of climbing back into the race in a weak National League East. At 43-49 entering tonight’s game, they would need to go 44-26 the rest of the way to reach 87 wins.
It would make for a dramatic turnaround comparable to what they achieved in 2019, but the schedule does ease up considerably now that the Nats are finished playing the NL West’s three contenders (against whom they went 5-16).
The Nationals are banking on improved results against more favorable competition, and they’re also banking on fielding a healthier roster as the rest of the season plays out.
In addition to Strasburg, that includes:
* Kyle Schwarber, who has begun taking light swings in the batting tunnel while being careful not to risk further straining his right hamstring.
* Yan Gomes, who has not been cleared yet to swing until his strained oblique muscle allows it.
* Alex Avila, who appears close to returning from the pair of calf strains he suffered while playing second base in an emergency on July 1.
* Joe Ross, who won’t start Tuesday as originally hoped, but is not expected to miss much more time with right elbow inflammation.
* Tanner Rainey, who threw 20 pitches off a mound today, the first time he’s done that since going on the IL with a stress reaction in his lower right leg on June 28.