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Stephen Strasburg to undergo surgery for carpal tunnel, almost certainly ending his season

Stephen Strasburg will undergo surgery for carpal tunnel in his right hand. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The Washington Nationals placed Stephen Strasburg on the 60-day injured list, and the starter will undergo surgery in the coming days for carpal tunnel neuritis in his right hand. The procedure almost certainly will end his season; Manager Dave Martinez said Saturday that the Nationals hope to have him healthy for spring training in February.

“Hopefully the surgery goes well,” Martinez said when asked whether the procedure officially shuts down Strasburg for the year. “The biggest thing is that the surgery relieves anything he has and that he’s able to rehab and come back, come back strong, next spring training. Long-term goal, that’s what we’re hoping for.

“If a miracle happens and, you know . . .” Martinez continued, not finishing the thought. “But he’s still got to ramp up, and I don’t see that being the case. We want to make sure that he’s 100 percent when he comes back, and we don’t want anything else to break down on him. We’re going to take this very slowly and carefully.”

The news came before the Nationals split a doubleheader with the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park. They took the first game, 5-4, but dropped the ­nightcap, 5-3.

In Wil Crowe’s major league debut, the Nationals settle for a doubleheader split vs. the Marlins

But the loss of Strasburg hung over the day. The right-hander has thrown just five innings this summer. He was first bothered by nerve irritation in his right hand in early July, leading him to miss his first two appearances. He returned Aug. 9, still felt tingling and exited his next start, Aug. 14, after just 14 pitches.

The Nationals put him on the 10-day injured list a day later. The diagnosis was carpal tunnel neuritis, the same injury Washington referenced when announcing Saturday’s move. Strasburg is in the first season of a seven-year, $245 million contract he signed in the offseason, assuring he will spend the back half of his career where it began in 2010.

“You feel for him because you know how hard he works,” Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer said. “Everybody worked so hard, especially in the shutdown, that you want to be out here and able to pitch. When you get that taken from you, it’s a gut punch. It’s a punch for our team, but I know specifically for Stephen it’s not a fun thing to have to go through.”

The 32-year-old has battled injuries over the past decade. But he made 33 starts in 2019, not missing a turn, and ended the year by being named World Series MVP. That durability didn’t stretch into this season, which has been hard on arms after a four-month break caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Strasburg is the third Nationals pitcher to hit the long-term IL, joining lefty relievers Roenis Elías and Sam Freeman. Sean Doolittle is on the 10-day IL, and Will Harris recently returned from a right groin strain. Around the majors, standouts such as Corey Kluber, Justin Verlander, Shohei Ohtani and Mike Soroka could all, like Strasburg, not appear on the mound again in 2020.

“He was very receptive. He wants to get this right,” Martinez said of discussing the surgery with Strasburg. “He’s disappointed that he couldn’t finish out this season. But I told him, ‘Let’s just get this fixed.’ He was hoping that maybe he could fight through this, but for me it doesn’t make any sense that he goes out here and tries to do what he did his last outing. Let’s just get it fixed, and hopefully he comes back and helps us win in the future. He’s a huge part of this future, and we know he’s here for many, many years. So we want to get him healthy.”

Pitcher injuries are piling up, raising a new concern for teams early in MLB’s delayed season

By putting Strasburg on the 60-day IL, the Nationals opened a spot on their 40-man roster. They filled it with right-hander Wil Crowe, who started the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Crowe, 25, made his major league debut. He could be auditioning for more opportunities, though the rotation is currently filled out by Erick Fedde and Austin Voth.

Fedde has replaced Strasburg each time he has been unable to pitch. The 27-year-old has been up and down, with flashes of dominance marred by flickering command. Voth, 28, has struggled after earning the fifth starter’s spot in July. The righty hasn’t made it past the fourth inning in his past two outings, and he recently admitted to fighting his mechanics.

Crowe allowed four runs and six hits in 3⅔ innings, so it remains to be seen whether he can keep the carousel moving and nudge the Nationals toward a slight shake-up. Crowe was the fifth player to debut for Washington in 2020, joining Kyle Finnegan, Seth Romero, Luis García and Dakota Bacus. Romero, García and Crowe had their chances directly tied to key injuries. Strasburg’s has hurt the most.

“You try not to prepare yourself for the worst, but you always got to keep in mind that, regardless of this season, it’s still a season,” Martinez said, nodding to the oddities of playing in a pandemic. “Guys are going to go down.”

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