By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 23, 2010; 12:02 AM
PHILADELPHIA - Sometime late Sunday afternoon, Stephen Strasburg's precious right arm was to have been placed into an MRI tube for the second time in less than a month, with the magnetic field this time trained not on his shoulder, but on his forearm. The Washington Nationals could only wait and hope the results are just as comforting as the first time.
For the moment, as they played the Philadelphia Phillies in the finale of a three-game series Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, the Nationals seemed optimistic they had averted disaster with Strasburg's arm yet again- although an abundance of caution and the cumulative physical and emotional toll of two separate injuries in such a short time span could still be enough to bring a premature end to Strasburg's season.
"We're going to be very conservative with him," Manager Jim Riggleman said.
Notwithstanding the MRI exam, the results of which were not expected until Monday morning, the rest of Sunday's news regarding Strasburg was good.
Barely 12 hours after being forced to leave his start Saturday night in the fifth inning after grimacing in pain and shaking his arm following a 1-1 change-up, Strasburg arrived early at the stadium and went through his normal day-after-a-start workout routine, which includes some light throwing, before departing for Washington. And he reported no discomfort in his forearm.
"He felt good enough," General Manager Mike Rizzo said, "to go through his normal workouts."
The Nationals would make no pronouncements about Strasburg's immediate future until seeing the results of his MRI exam - which was to be administered in Washington by team physician Wiemi Douoguih - but Riggleman said it was "probably safe to say" Strasburg would miss his next scheduled start, Thursday night at Nationals Park.
Rizzo, however, said reports Sunday morning that the team had decided to shut down Strasburg for the season were "inaccurate."
Whatever it was that happened to Strasburg's forearm Saturday night - the team's initial diagnosis was of a strained flexor tendon - two facts contributed to a general sense that the injury was not a serious one: It was a fleeting sort of pain, and it has happened to Strasburg in the past.
Although Strasburg appeared to be in distress and motioned for help immediately after throwing the pitch, his 56th of the night, by the time the rescue squad - Riggleman, pitching coach Steve McCatty and head trainer Lee Kuntz - made its way out to the mound, Strasburg said he was fine and began lobbying to remain in the game.
"When he left the game, he felt pretty good," Riggleman said. "He wanted to keep pitching."
Strasburg also revealed to team officials that he had suffered similar episodes while pitching at San Diego State , but that in each case he stayed in the game and continued pitching without problems. In each of those cases, the pitch that caused the pain was a change-up - suggesting there is something about the grip and force with which he throws that pitch that causes the nerve to be compressed in such a way as to cause a brief flash of pain.
"It's something in his forearm that just tightened up and sent a zinger through his arm," Riggleman said.
Having thrown a combined 1231/3 innings this season in the minors and majors, Strasburg was expected to make only another four or five starts before reaching his prescribed innings limit of 160 and being shut down for the season.
But beyond that, the Nationals have seen their prized phenom, to whom they gave a record-setting contract of $15.1 million following the June 2009 draft, sidelined for shoulder and forearm ailments - however minor - within the span of a month. On July 27, Strasburg was scratched from a scheduled start at Nationals Park after reporting stiffness in his shoulder, and wound up on the 15-day disabled list two days later.
"The irritations are in two different areas," Riggleman said. "You have to add it all up and be careful. I would rather it be in his hamstring, you know? But the fact is, it's not in the same place as the last one. Hopefully that might indicate it's not some chronic thing in one part of his arm. If something keeps happening in the same part of the arm, that's pretty scary. But the last one ended up being a minor irritation and hopefully this one ends up being a minor irritation."
Added Rizzo, "We're going to look at this as an isolated situation. The shoulder is not going to come into it."
Shortly before noon, Strasburg changed out of his workout clothes and into jeans and a polo shirt. Strasburg declined to answer questions from reporters about the injury before leaving the stadium.
"I think he's a little dispirited right now - rightfully so," Riggleman said. "This is what they do. They pitch, and they like to pitch, and when they don't get to pitch they're going to be unhappy with it. . . . He wants to pitch, and right now he doesn't know when he'll get to pitch again."
Staff writer Gene Wang contributed to this report.