The Nationals organization breathed a collective sigh of relief on Thursday, as the team discovered star pitcher Stephen Strasburg's ulnar collateral ligament is not damaged, meaning he will not require a second Tommy John surgery.
What Strasburg does have is a right flexor mass strain. The team does not believe it is a season-ending injury, but they have not deterimined a timetable to return. His status moving forward will depend on how his elbow reacts over the next four to five days.
"Everybody is very satisfied with where we are at this point. This is very good to know," manager Dusty Baker said.
Strasburg left his start against the Braves on Wednesday in the third inning after feeling a pinch in the back of his elbow. He was sent for an MRI on Thursday morning, which discovered the flexor issue.
"I know everyone was concerned that he re-injured that Tommy John ligament and the answer is no," head trainer Paul Lessard said. "The ligament is good. The rest of the elbow looks the same as the last MRI that we did."
That last MRI was done in May before Strasburg signed a seven-year, $175 million extension. He missed three weeks with right elbow soreness before returning off the disabled list on Wednesday, but the Nats say this new injury is unrelated.
"It's actually different. He just had some posterior swelling in the elbow, that's why we were working on it before. We got that out of there," Lessard said.
Lessard described Strasburg's ailment as an "acute injury, not an overuse injury." The flexor is activated when one turns their wrist or clinches their hand.
All in all, it has to be considered good news for the Nationals, though there is still uncertainty about Strasburg's status. There are just over three weeks left in the regular season and the Nats will need to be extra careful, given Strasburg had Tommy John surgery in 2010.
"It's not a season-ending injury, but we still need to take time to make sure he's nice and strong in there because of his past," Lessard said.
The Nats simply have to move forward without Strasburg, at least for now. They have some options, including rookies A.J. Cole, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. They have veteran Mat Latos. They also have young starter Joe Ross currently recovering from right shoulder inflammation.
They can make do in the short-term, but what happens if they make the playoffs and Strasburg isn't ready is very much up in the air.
"We have the personnel that we have. We can't count on somebody else coming in here," Baker said. "We have to do the best with what we have and then make a determination on who is to take his place now and possibly later. Do we move forward as if it's possible we won't have Stephen, or do we not count Stephen out? Those are our options."
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