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Stephen Strasburg diagnosed with nerve impingement, is not expected to miss a start

Stephen Strasburg left Sunday’s start with what the Nationals are calling “a nerve impingement.” (Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

If anyone hoped for clarity on Stephen Strasburg’s injury situation, the Washington Nationals did not provide much Tuesday, as is their custom.

“He was checked out by the doctor,” said Manager Dusty Baker, who did not provide the exact diagnosis for fear of butchering it. “The doctor said he’s doing fine, and we’re hoping he can progress enough to make his next start. We’ll have to see.”

Asked for clarification, a Nationals PR representative initially deferred to Baker’s statement, then later clarified to say Strasburg had “a nerve impingement that has been alleviated.” Strasburg did not make himself available to discuss the injury, saying he had to throw. So Baker’s story, and the nerve impingement issue, is the story the Nationals will stick to — and it is a fairly optimistic one, though it is certainly still evolving.

The whole thing began Sunday, after Strasburg worked through two laborious (but scoreless) innings and left his start after that. He described the problem as “achiness,” not anything acutely localized, not anything overtly worrisome.

Strasburg says Sunday’s exit was precautionary after forearm stiffness

“I’m having a tough time to really get loose out there, and I think it’s just the all-star break kind of messed it up for me throwing-wise and treatment-wise. It is what it is. I think my arm is just kind taking a little while to get back in the swing of things,” Strasburg said. “I pitched through it last game [in which he threw seven innings and struck out 11] and obviously did well but kind of still lingering there. I’d rather be smart about it.”

Strasburg did not have an MRI exam on the area, something that might seem like a surprisingly reckless course of action for a pitcher to whom the Nationals have committed $175 million over seven years. But he did undergo an ultrasound test, according to a person familiar with his situation. Strasburg has had that test before, and doctors compared the two, finding no signs of emerging trouble. While the team did not specify where the nerve impingement was, Strasburg was healthy enough to play his usual between-starts catch session before the game. He spoke to trainer Paul Lessard at length after the session but did not seem to truncate his long toss, nor have any trouble.

Strasburg has a lengthy history of injury trouble, beginning with Tommy John surgery early in his career, then the notorious shutdown of 2012. In 2015, Strasburg dealt with upper-back trouble that turned into a disabled list stint, then strained his oblique and was on the disabled list again. In 2016, Strasburg dealt with upper-back trouble and a disabled list stint, then experienced elbow trouble that turned out to be a torn pronator tendon that ended his season. Most of those issues did not come with pessimistic diagnoses initially, but grew into bigger trouble.

“I talked to him today. He’s feeling good,” Baker said. “Whenever something happens, especially when you have a history, everybody gets a little alarmed. But he’s not alarmed. He doesn’t look alarmed. He actually looks very at ease and at peace.”

If Strasburg is at peace, he is in the minority. Strasburg’s injury history does not beget confidence, and Baker admitted the Nationals have discussed contingency plans. Strasburg’s next start would come Saturday against the Rockies. Jacob Turner pitched Tuesday in Syracuse and, therefore, would not have enough rest. Erick Fedde has not pitched this turn through Syracuse’s rotation and threw a bullpen session Tuesday. He would, therefore, be rested.

But for now, the Nationals seem to believe Strasburg’s trouble will not linger, and Strasburg himself seemed optimistic after his short start Sunday, when he said, “I think it’s something I can work through.”

“I’ve had so much stuff happen just trying not to be selfish out there. I’m not really helping the team If I’m going out there and continually throwing through these things,” Strasburg said then. “I just want to be there at the end. That’s like the ultimate goal this year, and if getting pulled after a couple innings today, if that’s going to put me in a better position to be there, I’ll take it.”

Perhaps Strasburg is just fine, exactly as he and the Nationals say. Though his history does not inspire confidence, the fact that he threw Tuesday with no apparent trouble does. As usual with Strasburg and the Nationals, the only thing to do is wait and see.

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