LAS VEGAS — It has been a month since the Washington Nationals’ season came to a close — and five since Stephen Strasburg pitched in a major league game, his only start before returning to the injured list.
“We’re not ruling out that [he could pitch for the Nationals again],” Rizzo said. “So we’re hoping that he progresses to a point where he starts throwing and then builds up in a throwing program and starts pitching for us.”
Strasburg reached the pinnacle of his career when a dominant postseason earned him World Series MVP honors in 2019. He signed a seven-year, $245 million contract that December, but three seasons have come and gone without much action from the 34-year-old.
He logged 36⅓ innings during that World Series run, but injuries have limited him to 31⅓ innings since, leaving doubt about how much he has left in the tank on a contract that won’t expire until after the 2026 season.
Strasburg underwent surgery for carpal tunnel neuritis in 2020, then thoracic outlet syndrome in 2021. The Nationals tried to ease him back into the rotation by having him work out at their spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., before making a handful of rehab starts. Then, in his lone start of the year in the majors, he allowed seven runs in 4⅔ innings before returning to the injured list a few days later.
But Strasburg’s injury history is more extensive than that. He had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and has made 15 trips to the injured list in his career, including for neck tightness in 2018 that he believes was the first sign of thoracic outlet syndrome. Strasburg has said that the carpal tunnel surgery in 2020 was a quicker path to a return and probably was a misdiagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome.
Strasburg admitted to feeling tightness between his wrist and thumb during a rehab start this year. His arm went numb after standing for long periods of time earlier in the season, with his only relief coming when he laid down.
Strasburg has visited with a specialist this offseason, Rizzo said, in an attempt to get back on the mound. His presence typically leads to team success: Since 2012, the Nationals have made the playoffs in four of the five seasons when Strasburg made at least 28 starts.
But beyond the outings, Rizzo took pride in what Strasburg has meant to the organization as he stood in front of reporters Wednesday. Rizzo said Strasburg had gotten more fanfare than any prospect he had ever seen, including Bryce Harper. He laughed while recounting the need for security when Strasburg started Class AA games. Then he spoke about his historic 14-strikeout debut before turning to his postseason run in 2019 capped by his stellar performance in Game 6 of the World Series.
Rizzo reiterated his view that starting pitching is the most important aspect for a team trying to contend for a championship. The Nationals are starting to build a young core (featuring Cade Cavalli, Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore) they believe can help get them back to that point.
That leaves Strasburg as one of the last Nationals players who can link the future with the past. Rizzo said the team’s young pitchers have gone to him for advice, and many view him as a “legendary figure.”
That presence, while valuable in the clubhouse, could be worth even more on the field — even if he’s not the same pitcher he once was.
“[Strasburg] has had a lot of physical ailments,” Rizzo said. “And it’s not a good feeling for him. He wants to be out there. He wants to pitch. When he is out there pitching, he’s as good as anybody in the game. So it’s frustrating to him. And same for us. He was a big part of our franchise, big part of our championships. I’d just like to see him get healthy enough where he can go out there and throw again and end on his terms — not because he wasn’t healthy.”
On Thursday, the Nationals announced that left-handed reliever Francisco Perez and catcher Tres Barrera cleared waivers and were assigned to Class AAA Rochester. That transaction removes Perez and Barrera from the Nationals’ 40-man roster, which is now at 39. Both are now considered minor league free agents.
All players who were on the 60-day injured list had to be activated by Thursday, and all teams were required to get their 40-man rosters in place before free agency started at 5 p.m.