Stephen Strasburg relaxed on a black couch in the Nationals clubhouse Tuesday afternoon, chatting with catcher Kurt Suzuki. If there was any lingering concern over the forearm tightness he was feeling the previous night in a 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves, the right-hander didn’t show it.
This afternoon, the discomfort was gone. The Nationals insisted that Strasburg was healthy and what he was feeling was only irritation. General Manager Mike Rizzo said Strasburg’s right arm was “structurally perfect,” and added that the team’s No. 1 starter was expected to make his next start Saturday in Pittsburgh.
Strasburg, whose right elbow underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010, was evaluated by the Braves team physician at Turner Field and given a clean bill of health, Rizzo said. No further tests were scheduled, he added. “He’s healthy, happy and ready to pitch Saturday,” Rizzo said.
Manager Davey Johnson suggested that the irritation stemmed from a muscle-stimulation machine that Strasburg used prior to his start in Atlanta. After saying Monday night it was too early to tell if Strasburg’s discomfort would keep him from making his next start, Johnson said he wanted to see how Strasburg’s arm feels following his bullpen session Wednesday. But the manager said he was no longer worried about Strasburg and anticipated him taking the mound in four days. “Stras feels a lot better about it, so do I,” Johnson said.
Part of Johnson’s original concern was Strasburg shaking his arm in between batters, a practice Strasburg stopped doing but said Monday he did again to help keep his arm loose. Strasburg’s wildness — four walks and only 50 of his 93 pitches for strikes — was also a tip-off for Johnson. On Tuesday, both Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty explained that Strasburg’s stumbles were relatively small and more of a mental hurdle.
“His mechanics are fine,” Johnson said. “Again, it goes back to wanting to do too much. He’s a perfectionist and the pitch he wants to be perfect. Sometimes he’ll try to put a little extra instead of just hitting his spots and just pitching.”
“I wasn’t that worried last night,” McCatty added. “I saw him after the game and he never said anything to me. He was fine. After the game, the doctor looked at him and said he was fine. I didn’t see horse prints and go out look for zebras. He had a little tightness. I’m not going to panic.”
Strasburg has actually performed better than his 1-4 record suggests. He has struck out 8.7 batters per nine innings and has a 3.13 ERA, yet has suffered from poor run support. He hasn’t lived up to the high standards set by himself as a team ace and those thrust upon on him because of his talent. McCatty wants Strasburg to relax on the mound and still maintain his aggression. “I just want him to understand he’s human,” he said.
“He does pull off some pitches,” McCatty said, referring to the pitcher’s mechanics. “He puts himself under unbelievable scrutiny to be perfect, which we always work to get over with. And yeah, do I like the fact that he does it or anybody does it? No. It’s something we always fight against. But it happens. I’m not going to sit here and get all panicky about this. This is a young guy who still learning what he is doing with the tremendous ability that he has. He’s gotta fight some of his own battles and get through them.”