Update, 6:11 p.m.: The Nationals’ playoff push was dealt a surprising blow Friday when Stephen Strasburg was scratched from his scheduled start against the Philadelphia Phillies with tightness in his right forearm. Strasburg felt the discomfort in his throwing arm while trying to play catch the day before in New York, an issue the Nationals believe is minor.
Manager Davey Johnson said Strasburg may have felt the tightness while experimenting with a new pitch, but pitching coach Steve McCatty clarified that Strasburg was simply trying new grips on his pitches, a standard practice for pitchers. Johnson said the discomfort was in the “soft tissue,” essentially the muscle, in the top part of his forearm, opposite of where his 2010 Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery was performed. McCatty referred to Strasburg’s discomfort as irritation.
Strasburg was evaluated by the Mets’ team doctor and later by Nationals team doctor Wiemi Douoguih. Johnson was unsure if Strasburg was given an MRI, but Douoguih put the right-hander through a battery of tests. Strasburg, 25, was prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and will rest for two days before resuming throwing. Strasburg is scheduled to make his next start Sept. 19. Johnson said he felt “pretty confident” Strasburg would make his start in six days.
“All the doctors think it’s a non-issue,” said Johnson, whose club entered Friday’s game 5 1/2 games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the second National League wild-card spot. “Just give him some rest. It might have been some inflammation in there from new muscles being used on this new pitch. Who knows?”
Johnson said Strasburg’s discomfort came “out of the blue.” McCatty was headed onto the field at Citi Field in New York to watch Strasburg play catch when the right-hander returned to the clubhouse.
“He said his arm kind of felt like he couldn’t throw, like he couldn’t get loose,” McCatty said. “So, he waited until afterwards. He tried it again. He didn’t feel good. Nobody wants to push him.”
Right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, who has started and come out of the bullpen this season drew the start instead Friday. Ohlendorf, who has a 3.28 ERA over 49 1/3 innings, last pitched Saturday. He was in the dugout during Thursday’s game, and not in the bullpen as normal, because Johnson wanted to be cautious with Strasburg.
“I was concerned anytime a pitcher tells me he can’t throw the ball, didn’t want to play catch,” Johnson said.
McCatty said Strasburg wasn’t trying to throw a new pitch on Thursday but holding the ball different ways in his hand and applying different types of pressure with his fingers, a normal occurrence for pitchers. Strasburg declined to comment before Friday’s game.
“He only threw like seven or eight pitches messing around,” McCatty said. “I don’t know if that’s it or not. Guys throw, they get irritation. It’s unfortunate that it’s him, because now it becomes, ‘Oh my God, we landed on the moon.’ That’s what it was. He’s got some irritation.”
Strasburg is in the midst of the longest season of his career. He has thrown 170 innings over 28 starts, more than his much-debated 2012 season in which he was capped at 159 1/3 innings because of a team-mandated cap. Strasburg has posted a 2.96 ERA, the 11th best in the majors, and a 9.58 K/9 rate, the fourth best in baseball. He notched his first complete game on Aug. 11.
Although Strasburg has been excellent on the mound, he has dealt with a myriad of small oddities: he recently made two “embarrassing” balks, landed a disabled list stint for a lat strain this summer, was ejected for hitting a batter and throwing behind another in Atlanta, blew a complete game with two strikes left, has struggled to hold runners on base, had his mental toughness on the mound questioned, and already had a previous scare of his arm.
“I don’t attribute those things to bad luck,” McCatty said. “I attribute it to baseball. That’s what our game is. Crap happens. It happens. Him having the balks, we’ve talked about that. We’re trying to iron it out and take care of that. Having the catcher throw a ball and it hits the batter’s bat – it happens. It’s part of it. I don’t say it’s a lot of weird things. It’s just baseball. For the most part, most games, he’s thrown the ball very, very well. As we all know, any mistake he makes is magnified a lot more than somebody else’s.”
Update, 4:30 p.m.: Strasburg felt forearm tightness playing catch Thursday while working on “a new pitch,” Johnson said. The manager said it is a soft tissue injury and not a ligament, and that “all the doctors think it’s a non-issue.”
Strasburg was prescribed medication, and Johnson said he feels “pretty confident” the pitcher will make his next start on Sept. 19.
Original, 3:48 p.m.: The Nationals lineup card contained a surprising absence that may deal a blow to their surge back to contention. Stephen Strasburg, tonight’s scheduled starter against the Phillies, is not listed on their lineup. Instead, veteran Ross Ohlendorf will start in his place, per the lineup card.
The Nationals have not announced any reason why Strasburg will not pitch tonight. After his start 11 days ago, Manager Davey Johnson said Strasburg felt tightness in his hamstring. It is not clear whether that is an issue today. In New York over the past few days, Strasburg appeared to participate in his usual between-start routine.
We’ll have more later on Strasburg. Here are tonight’s lineups.
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
3. Jayson Werth, RF
4. Bryce Harper, LF
5. Ian Desmond, SS
6. Adam LaRoche, 1B
7. Wilson Ramos, C
8. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
9. Ross Ohlendorf, SP
1. Cesar Hernandez, CF
2. Jimmy Rollins, SS
3. Chase Utley, 2B
4. Carlos Ruiz, C
5. Darin Ruf, RF
6. Cody Asche, 3B
7. Kevin Frandsen, 1B
8. Freddy Galvis, LF
9. Kyle Kendrick, SP