At the start of Saturday’s game, hours after Stephen Strasburg was told his season would come to an early end, Mark DeRosa sidled up to him on the Nationals bench. DeRosa’s contributions this season have been larger behind the scenes, a lesser-used veteran utility man who takes pride in stepping in and offering advice when needed. And at the moment, he knew it was his time to lend a hand.
For the first three innings or so, DeRosa, 37, sat next to Strasburg, 24, and told him to empty his heart if he needed. The Nationals’ decision to shut down the right-hander this season has weighed on him, more so now that the team is in the midst of a pennant race and over the past few days.
“I just wanted him, if he had something to say, good, bad and different, to voice it,” DeRosa said. “Because a lot of what is said to [the public] is filtered.”
Strasburg, generally a reserved person, shared some of his feelings with DeRosa. Strasburg’s biggest reservations are about the shutdown are that he feels like he is letting his teammates down and that he feels good despite never pitching this much before in his career.
“There is no right or wrong answer to this,” DeRosa said. “His body is telling him one thing but the doctors are telling him another. And he’s got to be smart because he’s got too much at stake.”
“We just see him as this robot and unbelievable pitcher,” he added. “That’s not the case. This guy has battled to get to this position in his career and he wants to be a part of the postseason and he wants to be a part of how good we’re playing. But he also understands the ramifications if he does continue to pitch.”
DeRosa had two messages he wanted to convey to Strasburg. When DeRosa was with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2009, he was recovering from a wrist injury and was faced with a situation where he could continue to play through it or end his season. He continued playing and said his wrist has never been the same. DeRosa wanted Strasburg to understand that his teammates don’t feel like they’re being let down.
“I don’t want to see him beat himself up,” DeRosa said.
DeRosa also wanted to reiterate to Strasburg that he isn’t a distraction to his teammates and the attention surrounding him and the shutdown is beyond his control. Strasburg wants the focus to be on his teammates and his fellow starters.
“I don’t think it’s as big as running across the bottom of the ESPN ticker is making it out to be,” DeRosa said. “I just think it’s a situation where he knew it, we knew it coming into spring training. We knew we were going to be good. To say we were going this good and be in this position remained to be seen at the time. This would be a non-story if it was last year. But it’s not. But it’s a situation where you’ve got to deal with it. But I just wanted to tell him, I didn’t want him to feel like he was letting anybody down or letting us down. Absolutely. We all knew it. We all understand that situation is out of his control, for the most part.”