After yesterday’s announcement that the Washington Nationals placed the 2019 World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg on the 10-day IL list, fans have to be wondering if there is a magic spell or a bubble they could use to protect their ace between starts.
While we don’t have any information on when this latest injury occurred, we do now have some sort of timetable on what happened over the past few days.
On Tuesday, April 13, when the Washington Nationals played against the St. Louis Cardinals, many observed right away that something looked off for the right-hander. Strasburg ended up throwing just 88 pitches, and allowed eight runs off of eight hits, issued five walks, and struck out three. In between innings, a TV camera that was pointed at the tunnel behind the Nats dugout at Busch Stadium, showed Strasburg rubbing his neck and right shoulder.
Dave Martinez pulled the right-hander not long after and Strasburg’s night was over. After the game when Martinez met with reporters he said: “We talked to him after the game — he said he felt fine…” Even Strasburg himself dismissed any health issues during Tuesday’s game in his own comments. “I just threw a lot of poor pitches,” Strasburg said after the game. “And they made me pay for it.”
According to Mark Zuckerman of MASN Sports, Strasburg “played catch at Busch Stadium the day after his start and threw a normal bullpen session later in the week when the team returned to Nationals Park. The day after that, he informed the club his shoulder was bothering him.” Dave Martinez said: “He went through his regular routine this whole week, and after his bullpen – which he threw well – he said he didn’t feel right. That was an indication we needed to get him checked out.”
The team then sent Strasburg to get an MRI, and that test revealed that Strasburg did have inflammation in the shoulder, and the Nationals decided to place him on the 10-day IL. According to reports and Dave Martinez during yesterday’s pre-game press conference, there is no timetable for Strasburg’s return to the Nationals pitching rotation. Martinez said: “When we get Stephen back, we need to get him back right, so we have him for the rest of the year… For me, it’s been a crazy start of the year, from the beginning. We’ve got to start looking at some of this stuff and the possibility of some of these things happening. It’s unfortunate, but we’ve got to move on. We’ve got to play today.”
According to the University of Pennsylvania Medicine website: an inflammation in the shoulder is caused by a “rotator cuff tendons become trapped under the bony area in the shoulder,” which then “The tendons become inflamed or damaged….”
Additionally, according to the Harvard Medical School website, rotator cuff treatment: the minimum time for recovery from rotator cuff tendinitis or a small tear is generally two to four weeks, and stubborn cases can take several months.”
So what should the Nationals do Next?
This is the million-dollar question that needs to be addressed ASAP. Besides Strasburg, the starting rotation is currently without offseason acquisition, Jon Lester. The veteran southpaw is currently ramping up for his 2021 debut after beginning the 2021 season on the IL under COVID-19 protocols. Zuckerman reported that “Jon Lester is due to make a second start in a simulated game in Fredericksburg on Tuesday, building up to five innings and 80-85 pitches.” So hopefully, we will see Lester pitching in the next couple of weeks.
Until then, the Nationals have an open spot in the pitching rotation and not that many options. Here are the three roads that the Nationals can take over the next couple of days, weeks, and months ahead:
The Combo Package
The Nationals could add Austin Voth to the rotation and share the pitching load with Erick Fedde until Strasburg returns. These two pitchers have had some mixed results over their first appearances of the 2021 season and might not be the right approach. Even though the Nationals 2021 season is young, the Nationals should have proven pitchers in the pitching rotation so that the team doesn’t have a huge hole to climb out of after Strasburg’s return.
Looking on the Free Agent Market
Nationals could find some options on the free-agent market. One name that has been mentioned and should be considered: Anibal Sanchez. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Nationals are among “the teams with interest in Sánchez, who pitched for Washington from 2019-20,” a couple of weeks ago. We all know how well Sanchez pitched during the 2019 season and the postseason.
During the 2019 season, Sanchez pitched a total of 166 innings and had an ERA of 3.85. However, during the shortened 2020 season, Sanchez was unable to re-create his 2019 performance. In 2020, he pitched 53 innings and had an ERA of 6.62 despite posting similar strikeout and walk numbers from the previous season.
Take Advantage of the Schedule/Speed up Lester’s Return
Since we are unaware of, as of now, the timetable for Strasburg’s return, the Nationals should speed up the return of Jon Lester and use a four-man rotation of Scherzer, Corbin, Ross, and Fedde in the meantime. Obviously, they have to make sure that Lester is ready for a real Major League Game, but also realize that extra time is not a luxury that the Nationals have at this point.
With four days off in the next 14 days, the Nationals could get by using four starters on regular rest until they have back-to-back, three-game series against the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees starting May 4th. Of course, for this to work, Patrick Corbin would need to regain his form, and Fedde and Joe Ross would need to continue the success of their most recent starts.
After Strasburg’s return, the Nationals should also think about how they will move forward with keeping one of their top paid players in shape for the long haul of the season. The Nationals are built from their starting rotation and, if that means skipping some of Strasburg’s starts to keep that arm healthy, the Nationals should be exploring every option at this point. If he continues to pitch well, maybe continue to use Fedde as a sixth starter to give Strasburg an extra day off from time to time. This is the second consecutive season that Strasburg is dealing with an ailment.
Last year, Strasburg was limited to five frames last year because of carpal tunnel neuritis in his right hand. He reported to Spring Training healthy after undergoing surgery last August. This year, though, his average fastball velocity has dropped to 92.1 mph — down from 93.9 mph in 2019, his last complete season.
Edited by: Jonathan Mailloux