Never mind the results against the Baltimore Orioles, a 6-2 loss and a 15-3 win in the nightcap. Castro was playing every day, having signed a two-year, $12 million contract in the offseason to fill second and a middle-of-the-order spot. Strasburg, who signed a seven-year, $245 million deal before this season, has been battling nerve irritation in his right hand since the beginning of summer camp.
The departures carry varying levels of significance for the Nationals (7-10). They called up top prospect Luis García to replace Castro. Erick Fedde jogged in from the bullpen once Strasburg was finished. In the past two days, Washington has sent Castro and two left-handed relievers — Sean Doolittle and Sam Freeman — to the injured list. Freeman went to the 60-day IL, with a strained flexor mass in his left elbow, to make room for García on the 40-man roster.
And now we'll see if Strasburg will join them. He will be evaluated again Saturday before the Nationals determine further steps.
"I obviously believe at this point that we need to really look at this very closely and see what happens here in the next few days," Manager Dave Martinez said of Strasburg, who declined to speak with reporters despite a request to. It is also standard for starters to address the media after each game. A team public relations representative said he will do so when he knows more about his right hand.
"I'm not going to run him out there like that," Martinez continued. "He was upset. He wanted to be out there, but I'm not going to see him go through that. He's one of our best."
The 32-year-old first felt tingling in early July. The irritation was concentrated in his right thumb and wrist. He missed his first two starts, with Fedde replacing him, and made his season debut against the Orioles on Sunday, the game that was suspended once the tarp got stuck in its roller at Nationals Park.
In the fifth inning of that game, Strasburg shook his right hand before waving off Manager Dave Martinez and head athletic trainer Paul Lessard. After the outing, he told reporters he was still figuring out how to pitch through it. That seemed dangerous amid a rash of pitcher injuries across baseball, including a half dozen in Washington alone.
But Strasburg was set on making his next appearance. Martinez reiterated as much as the righty went through his between-starts routine this week. Then Strasburg looked entirely uncomfortable on the mound. He had waited through a two-hour rain delay for the game to start. He was shaking his hand again by the second batter, who lofted a solo homer out to right. Martinez and Lessard came out once he did it again.
The conversation didn't last long. Strasburg squinted over the group, gritted his teeth, then stuck the ball in catcher Yan Gomes's mitt. He walked into the dugout alongside Lessard. He left Fedde in the middle of an at-bat, the sort of situation that has become all-too familiar for the 27-year-old. Fedde wasn't the only one who had his role balloon by sundown.
"I hope he understands it. I hope he knows where I'm coming from and where our medical staff is coming from," Martinez said of wanting to be careful with Strasburg. "He's going to be here for a lot of years. He's going to pitch a lot of innings. In order to do that, he's got to be healthy and I told him, 'You did everything you can. It's just a weird injury for you. Let's just try to get it right.' "
Earlier in the evening, in the sixth inning of the first game, Castro tumbled after a grounder in the sixth inning of the first game. He snared it, giving him a chance to nail the runner at first, but never made a throw. He was slow to get up and gritted his teeth, too. Then he was lifted for a pinch hitter, his right wrist too sore to swing a bat. An X-ray revealed that it was broken.
García, only 20 years old, was already in Baltimore as a member of the season's first taxi squad. New rules for 2020 permit clubs to carry five extra players on the road, in case they are needed in a pinch. García was penciled in to start at second, hit sixth and, with that, make the unlikeliest of major league debuts.
He scored in a two-run second for the Nationals. He poked the first hit of his career, a single to left, in a three-run third. He helped the Nationals pile on with a two-run double in the eighth. And he also extended a line of position players fast-tracked by injuries. General Manager Mike Rizzo has never shied from using youth in case of emergency.
Remember how Juan Soto wound up here? He was 19, crushing pitchers in the minors, when outfielders Adam Eaton, Brian Goodwin, Rafael Bautista and Howie Kendrick went to the IL, one after the other. Or how about Carter Kieboom? It was only last April that Trea Turner broke his right index finger, the Nationals needed a jolt, and Rizzo pulled Kieboom from Class AAA Fresno. Now, Martinez says that García will be the everyday second baseman while Castro is out.
"I hope, little by little, by making the plays out of the infield and doing my job, that I get more of his confidence and his trust in me," García said in Spanish through a team interpreter. "I'm just looking forward to playing out there."
All nine batters in the Nationals' order recorded a hit Friday night. Kieboom ripped two singles and finished with 11 defensive assists. Soto knocked in two runs and scored another after stealing second in the third. Turner added three hits. The offense, as a whole, notched 19 hits and capitalized on defensive miscues. And Fedde shut the Orioles by yielding two hits 5⅓ scoreless innings.
But a win was just a tiny Band-Aid on larger problems. A pair of injuries made sure of it.