Following a scare Monday night regarding “tightness” in Stephen Strasburg’s forearm, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said Tuesday morning that the ace’s right arm is “structurally perfect” and he is not expected to miss a start.
Rizzo said Strasburg has “no problem” and only suffered “irritation” in his right forearm, possibly related to overuse of a muscle-stimulation machine prior to his start in Atlanta against the Braves. The muscle issue is not related to the ligament Strasburg had repaired during Tommy John surgery in 2010, Rizzo said.
“He’s strong as an ox,” Rizzo said.
Monday night, Manager Davey Johnson said Strasburg felt “forearm tightness” during his six-inning outing in a 3-2 loss to the Braves. Strasburg brushed aside questions and vowed he would not miss a start.
“It’s essentially something where he’s going to be okay,” Strasburg’s agent Scott Boras said this morning. “He felt a little sore and stiff. He doesn’t even think he’s going to miss a start.”
Strasburg raised concerns during his outing as he frequently shook his arm between pitches. (In the past, Strasburg has said he does that to remove sweat from his fingertips.) In the dugout after the sixth, Strasburg sat next to head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz.
In his final inning, Strasburg showed no signs of arm trouble. He struck out all three hitters he faced. To his final batter, superstar Justin Upton, Strasburg fired fastballs of 97, 97, 97 and 98-miles per hour to strike him out.
The condition of Strasburg’s arm “overrides everything,” Johnson said Monday night. “Hopefully he’s going to be all right. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Despite encouraging initial news today, troubling signs may have surfaced before Monday night. Rival evaluators had noticed a slackening of Strasburg’s delivery. One National League scout, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss other teams’ players, said Strasburg looked different on April 19 in a showdown against young Mets ace Matt Harvey.
“He was coming out of his delivery way too quick,” the scout said. “His body was getting away from his arm. Several of us saw it in New York vs. Harvey.”
The mechanical glitch is “possibly” an indication Strasburg was favoring part of his arm, the scout said.
Strasburg lost his command against the Atlanta Braves. He allowed only two runs over six innings, but he walked four, including the game’s first batter, and threw only 50 of his 93 pitches for strikes. Since his opening day start, Strasburg has walked 3.6 batters per nine innings, more than one over his career average.
Through perceived inconsistency and potential arm trouble, Strasburg has still performed well, better than a specious 1-4 record indicates. He has struck out 8.7 batters per nine innings and has a 3.13 ERA. His 3.15 FIP – an advanced metric used to measure a pitcher’s performance based on factors within his control – ranks 28th in the majors. He has not lived up to his lofty standard, or the standard of an ace, but Strasburg has still pitched above a league-average level.
Last year, the Nationals infamously shut down Strasburg’s season with a month remaining in the season as a precautionary measure, limiting his workload in the wake of his 2010 elbow surgery.