Manager Davey Johnson removed Strasburg from the Nationals’ 6-2 victory today after six innings and only 89 pitches because Strasburg suffered a small cut on the tip of his right middle finger. Strasburg, who struck out eight and allowed five hits in a dominant performance, protested the early hook, but Johnson wanted to ensure the cut did not turn into a more troubling wound.
“He came back in, and I saw it was a little cut,” Johnson said. “There was one pitch that aggravated it when he threw. He said, ‘I just won’t throw that pitch.’ I said, ‘You won’t throw more any pitches.’ He was fighting tooth and nail not to come out of that ballgame.”
In the dugout, pitching coach Steve McCatty explained to Strasburg why he was coming out. He stared straight out to the field, an enraged expression on his face, angry that he could not continue.
“I tried to tell them I was feeling good, that everything was working and I wanted to go back out there,” Strasburg said. “It’s out of my control.”
Strasburg actually cut the finger before the sixth inning, Johnson said, as he trimmed his fingernail. (It is not wholly uncommon for pitchers to trim fingernails during a game, given the importance of how they grip the ball.) Strasburg struck out two and hit a batter in the scoreless sixth, and then Johnson noticed the cut had widened.
“It’s nothing major,” Strasburg said. “I don’t think it affected the way the ball was coming out or anything like that. I wanted to go out there again. I was trying to fight through it. They were pretty committed to getting me out there. It is what it is. It’s a long season. You’ve got to roll with it. I’ll go out there and pitch longer next time.”
The Nationals have two days off in the next five days, which means Strasburg will have at least one extra day of rest between starts. Johnson expressed no concern the cut would linger or affect Strasburg in his next outing.
“It’s a little slight cut,” Johnson said. “It should calm down. Hopefully our doctors and trainers can heal him up before our next start and it won’t be an issue. But I didn’t want him to go out there and cut it more and expand that little wound, and then he might have to miss a start. We didn’t want that.”
Strasbrug’s early hook had two silver linings. One, the Nationals’ bullpen tossed three scoreless innings and the Nationals won comfortably, anyway. Two, the inning Strasburg did not pitch today could become an inning he throws in September.
The Nationals will limit Strasburg to roughly 160 to 170 innings this year, his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. After today’s start, he has thrown 77. With the Nationals in command of the National League East, the reality of watching a pennant race has started to gnaw on the intensely competitive right-hander.
“I try not to think about it,” Strasburg said. “With the direction that we’re going and everything, it makes it even harder to not think about it. I can’t control that. Hopefully things can change, and if we get to where we want to be, somehow I’m part of it.”
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