Stephen Strasburg played catch in right field at Nationals Park from around 90 feet Saturday morning. He threw from flat ground but simulated delivering pitches from the stretch. It constituted a good sign for the Washington Nationals. Strasburg’s status for the remainder of the season was unclear just 10 days ago as he continued with the frustrating discomfort created by a cervical nerve impingement in his neck.
But if Strasburg had his way he probably would have done more than play catch on flat ground Saturday morning. He maybe would have been pitching off a mound by then. That’s how good he’s feeling.
“It’s really still, unfortunately, it’s early,” Strasburg said before taking the field for his throwing session. “I thought it was going to go a little faster, but you got to listen to the doctor and I’m not a doctor.”
Strasburg laughed when he pointed out he doesn’t have a medical degree. He was relaxed in the Nationals’ clubhouse. His rehab isn’t progressing at the speed he envisioned, but he’s encouraged. He said the symptoms from the impingement, which had been bothering him since spring training, haven’t resurfaced since he was given a scalene injection on July 26 in Los Angeles. His shoulder, which sent him to the disabled list for six weeks, isn’t bothering him. He’s healthy and relieved. Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said Strasburg could throw off a mound “in the next week or so.”
“It’s amazing how everything has calmed down, and I’m actually feeling fresh the next day and the next day,” Strasburg said. “And it hasn’t been that way for some time. You kind of start to realize how bad it was.”
It was bad enough for Strasburg to resemble just a slightly above pitcher, not a co-ace, for two months before going on the disabled list in early June with shoulder inflammation. He returned on July 20 and looked even worse, allowing six runs in 4 2/3 innings. The decision was then made to place him back on the disabled list and fix the pestering nerve problem.
Strasburg, 3o, has said he believes it’s all behind him now. He expects to return completely healthy for the first time this season. The last time he was completely healthy was a similar situation and the results were staggering. Last season, Strasburg returned from a month-long DL stint on Aug. 19 to pitch to an 0.84 ERA in his eight starts leading up to the postseason. He then held the Chicago Cubs scoreless in 14 innings across two starts in the National League Division Series. He was at his peak, arguably the best pitcher in baseball. Nationals Manager Dave Martinez watched firsthand from the other side as the Cubs’ bench coach.
“When he steps on the mound there’s always an excitement,” Martinez said. “And we want him to be completely healthy next time he comes back because we know what he can do and we know he can help us win games.”
For now, Strasburg will adhere to a plan he wished could speed up and hopes it will yield similar results.
“You have to keep it simple. And, to me, it comes down to execution and you’re pitching pain-free and you’re feeling strong and healthy,” Strasburg said. “It gives you a better chance to execute more often. And I just know with my stuff and my ability, that’s really what it comes down to. I execute and it’s going to be in my favor. That’s kind of what I chalk it up.
“You want to get back to that feeling, though. It was a fun stretch but it’s in the past. What I can do now, today, is continue to do everything I can to strengthen and get closer to being back out there.”
RODRIGUEZ LIKELY GETTING THE NOD
Friday night’s postponement left the Nationals in a predicament. Already with a doubleheader scheduled against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday, the Nationals will play five games in four days, meaning they won’t have a fifth pitcher to throw on regular rest for one of Tuesday’s games. As a result, Washington will have to add a starting pitcher for a spot start. Martinez said it will likely be Jefry Rodriguez, who is lined up to pitch for Class AAA Syracuse on Tuesday.
The 25-year-old Rodriguez has struggled in his time with Washington this season, posting a 6.86 ERA in five appearances, including three starts. But the Nationals don’t have a choice in a pivotal matchup against a team they’re chasing in the National League standings because Erick Fedde is on the disabled list, Austin Voth was called up for Saturday’s doubleheader as Washington’s 26th man, and Strasburg’s DL stint forced the club to call up Tommy Milone to replace him in the rotation.
“There’s nothing you can really do,” Martinez said. “These guys, we’re trying to keep them on schedule the best we can.”
Jose Peraza SS
Phillip Ervin LF
Joey Votto 1B
Eugenio Suarez 3B
Brandon Dixon RF
Curt Casali C
Dilson Herrera 2B
Anthony DeSclafani P
Billy Hamilton CF
Adam Eaton RF
Trea Turner SS
Anthony Rendon 3B
Bryce Harper CF
Juan Soto LF
Daniel Murphy 2B
Ryan Zimmerman 1B
Matt Wieters C
Gio Gonzalez P