Shoulder inflammation means rest for Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg

For the next two or three days, Stephen Strasburg will receive treatment with the Nationals' head athletic trainer.
For the next two or three days, Stephen Strasburg will receive treatment with the Nationals' head athletic trainer. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2010

Stephen Strasburg loathes the notion of standing apart from his teammates, which his team literally forced him to do Wednesday afternoon. As the rest of the Washington Nationals pitching staff shagged batting practice, Strasburg stood in right field and chatted with pitching coach Steve McCatty for roughly 45 minutes, barred from throwing or any other activity that may aggravate his damaged right shoulder.

One day after the Nationals scratched Strasburg from his start Tuesday night, they decided he would not throw for at least three or four days. They did not rule out him making his start Sunday, but given his planned regimen for the coming days and his long-term value to the franchise, Strasburg climbing the Nationals Park mound this weekend appears highly unlikely.

The Nationals pulled Strasburg from his start Tuesday after he felt stiffness in his shoulder while warming up in the bullpen. Afterward, an MRI exam showed only inflammation and no structural difference from the MRI the Nationals administered after signing him last summer. That MRI came back "totally clean," General Manager Mike Rizzo said.

Strasburg felt "much better" Wednesday, he said, and attributed the stiffness to facing a new physical toll as he transitions from college to professional baseball.

"It was just one of those days where it was tighter than normal," Strasburg said. "I'm just at the point in the season where I'm kind of going down uncharted territory. Got to be smart right now and look at the big picture. I know they're going to need me more for than just one game, and I've just got to make sure everything gets back going the right way and look toward the future."

Strasburg has thrown 109 2/3 innings this season. In college last year, he threw 109. The two-out difference doesn't include all the extra bullpen sessions and side work that comes when a pitcher changes from a college, once-every-weekend schedule to a professional, once-every-five-days schedule. Said Rizzo: "This is a workload that he's never seen before."

For the next two or three days, Strasburg will receive treatment with head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz -- stretching, strengthening exercises, rest and heat and ice. Strasburg said the most important aim is "getting my range of motion back, making sure that I'm flexible, and everything's feeling nice and loose."

Given the stakes of Strasburg's health and how cautious the Nationals have been with him, it would be stunning for Strasburg to not miss at least one start. The Nationals exercised extreme care and vigilance Tuesday night. "I've never seen anyone get an MRI that fast," one Nationals employee said. "It was like the MRI seas parted."

After his scratch, the Nationals could sense Strasburg's disappointment. He said he was scared because he had experienced a "very similar" stiffness at San Diego State before a start.

"He was a little down," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "When you're a starting pitcher, you're really looking for that day. It's got to be a little depressing."

Said Kuntz: "His shoulder didn't feel right, and he didn't really know what to make of it. After we sat down and discussed it with him, he feels much better today, so he's in a much better spot. It's something all these guys deal with sooner or later. For him, it's the first time around. He's figuring it all out. He's going to be fine."

Strasburg said he felt the discomfort upon releasing the ball as his arm decelerated, which is an important distinction. Pain felt on release is usually a sign of a labrum ailment and increased laxity in the shoulder tissue, said Lonnie Paulos, an orthopedic surgeon and the medical director at the Paulos-Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, Fla.

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