Stephen Strasburg scratched from start against Braves after struggling to loosen up

Instead of facing the Braves Tuesday night, Stephen Strasburg was scheduled for an MRI exam and X-ray after General Manager Mike Rizzo decided to sit him.
Instead of facing the Braves Tuesday night, Stephen Strasburg was scheduled for an MRI exam and X-ray after General Manager Mike Rizzo decided to sit him. (Photos By John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)   |   Buy Photo
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

First, the initial steps of their nightmare scenario unfolded. On Tuesday night, Stephen Strasburg played long toss in right field, his typical warmup. He moved into the bullpen and threw maybe five pitches, grimacing after at least one. Then the Washington Nationals scratched Strasburg from his start against the Atlanta Braves after the pitcher had "trouble getting loose in the bullpen," General Manager Mike Rizzo said.

Next came the relief.

The Nationals consider Strasburg day-to-day after a body of medical tests revealed right shoulder inflammation and soreness but no structural damage, Rizzo said. An X-ray came back negative, and an MRI exam taken before the game ended showed no changes from the MRI the Nationals performed on Strasburg immediately after they signed him last summer -- no damage to his labrum or rotator cuff.

"That's good news," Rizzo said. "You always like the positive news that the caution that you showed was worthwhile. This is something, given a couple a days rest, he should be better."

The Nationals are not planning for Strasburg to visit any more doctors or undergo any more tests. He will take a regimen of anti-inflammatory medicine, and the Nationals will gauge Strasburg's condition Wednesday before determining their next course of action. They have not ruled out Strasburg making his next start as scheduled, give or take a day.

"We're not going to eliminate anything," Rizzo said. "We're going to be cautious with him."

"Chances are, it's nothing severe," said a major league medical source who has not worked with Strasburg but is familiar with his circumstances. "A guy that valuable, they might say, 'Wait a minute, hold it.' A regular guy, you give him some anti-inflammatory, have him throw a side in two days and get him out there. This guy, you might wait a month or so. He's a different animal. But I wouldn't be overly concerned."

The larger concern is what might be causing Strasburg, noted for impeccable mechanics, to suffer the inflammation. The biggest worry is the strain of throwing in the upper 90s, no matter how sound a pitcher's form.

"Obviously, there's a reason for this," said the source. "Is he fatigued? There's a lot possible reasons. They are going to have to figure out why he is tight. There's no question it's a red flag. You can only throw 98 or 100 for so long."

There is also the public-relations aspect of handling an injury to Strasburg. If Strasburg pitches soon and aggravates his shoulder, "there's going to be a lot of people asking a lot of questions," the source said. "I don't see the gain in pushing him out there. With a young pitcher, it's important to shut him down. They were smart [Tuesday]. I take my hat off to them."

Strasburg had no symptoms and offered no warnings this week, Rizzo said, and had not felt any similar sensation as a professional. Strasburg did endure similar stiffness and inflammation at San Diego State. He threw a clean bullpen session over the weekend and felt fine after playing catch Monday.

Strasburg went through his typical pregame routine. Early Tuesday afternoon, Strasburg appeared calm, at ease. He sat at his locker watching video on his laptop, then moved to a clubhouse couch comfortably. He laughed when a clubhouse attendant told a joke.

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