When Stephen Strasburg takes the mound Sunday, it will mark the first time since mid-May that the Nationals’ pitching rotation has been at full strength.
Strasburg has been nursing a strained right lat that placed him on the 15-day disabled list. The Nationals, who have been hovering around .500, hope his presence can help ignite the ballclub in the remaining games until the All-Star break in mid-July.
Strasburg has posted 2.54 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 12 starts. However, he is just 3-5, with the Nationals’ offense averaging 2.9 runs per game in his starts.
“I feel I’m going out there and pitching well,” Strasburg said in early May. “It’s just not happening on the days I pitch right now. It’s all going to change. It’s still early.”
Last Saturday, Strasburg threw a bullpen session without any problems and came away pain-free. On Tuesday afternoon, Strasburg threw a simulated game at Coors Field before Washington’s game against the Rockies.
Again, Strasburg came away fine and without any lingering effects from the session. During the simulated game, Strasburg threw 56 pitches to selected teammates.
“I didn’t really feel like I threw at all,” Strasburg told The Washington Post earlier this week in Denver. “I feel like my strength stayed there even though I missed a couple starts.”
Expected to start Sunday, Strasburg will face a Cleveland lineup that headed into Thursday ranked ninth in Major League Baseball with 308 runs scored.
Making matters tougher, the Indians’ lineup on Sunday could feature six left-handed batters for Strasburg to face, including switch-hitters Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana. Left-handed hitters have a .244 batting average against Strasburg, compared to the .193 for right-handed hitters.
Regardless of the challenge Cleveland presents in Strasburg’s return, the Nationals will be happy to see a complete pitching rotation again. In addition to Strasburg’s injury, Washington was without starter Ross Detwiler from May 15 until Thursday night because of an oblique injury.
With Sunday the first available date Strasburg is eligible to return, he’s hoping to jump back in and continue his season in stride.
“All I can do is give everything I have every fifth day, and whatever happens, happens,” Strasburg said.