The Washington Nationals’ title defense has hit another major snag.
The team placed reigning World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg on the injured list with carpal tunnel neuritis after a Friday outing against the Baltimore Orioles that ended in the first inning. Strasburg recorded just two outs and threw 16 pitches.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters after the game the exit was due to continued nerve issues in Strasburg’s pitching hand, according to MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. Martinez said the team wouldn’t play him again until it thinks he’s 100 percent.
Per Statcast, Strasburg’s fastest pitch came in at only 92.3 mph, below what he averaged last season (93.9 mph) but above his average from his first start (91.8 mph). That diminished velocity, as well as Strasburg’s lack of command (seven of his 16 pitches were balls), was an ominous sign for a player who has struggled this year.
Rough season for Strasburg so far
News of Strasburg’s issues first emerged when he was scratched from his season-opening start last month due to nerve irritation in his throwing hand. That issue continued to linger up to Strasburg’s season debut earlier this week, in which the Orioles tagged him for five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings pitched.
Strasburg admitted to reporters after the game that his hand still didn’t feel 100 percent. From MASN’s Byron Kerr:
“To be honest, I felt it,” he said. “I don’t know if it was necessarily like fatigue or just not having necessarily the stamina built up quite yet. But it’s something where I don’t think I’m doing any long-term harm on it. But it does have an impact on being able to throw the baseball and being able to commit to pitches. That’s something I haven’t quite figured out how to pitch through it yet, so I think the goal is to continue to get built up and get the pitch count up to where that won’t be flaring up over the course of the start.”
That nerve issue emerged in Strasburg’s second start as well, and has now landed him on the IL.
That’s a concerning beginning to the season for a pitcher who inked a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Nationals last offseason, despite a history of injuries that include Tommy John surgery in 2010. Helping his case was a career year in 2019, in which he posted a 3.32 ERA and 251 strikeouts while leading the National League in innings pitched with 209, then won World Series MVP as the franchise captured its first championship.
Strasburg is one of many high-profile pitchers to encounter arm issues so far this year, likely a product of the start-and-stop nature of the season’s beginning.
Nationals’ title defense could be going better
So far, it just hasn’t been the Nationals’ year.
For starters, phenom Juan Soto missed the team’s first eight games of the season after testing positive for the coronavirus, and he has since said he believes he had a false positive. Strasburg’s co-ace Max Scherzer had to leave another start after just one inning due to a hamstring issue. Closer Sean Doolittle hit the IL with knee inflammation after posting a 15.00 ERA to open the season. Set-up man Will Harris just returned from an IL stint due to a groin issue. And infielder Starlin Castro, one of the team’s few bright spots early in the season, is now out for weeks after breaking his wrist on the same day as Strasburg’s early exit.
Add Strasburg’s problems to those issues, plus the fact that the team was 6-10 entering his start, and you have the makings of a rough year.
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