Stephen Strasburg will make his season debut for the Nationals on Thursday, appearing in a major-league game for the first time in over 12 months. Manager Davey Martinez announced in his pregame press conference Tuesday that the right-hander felt good following his bullpen session Monday and should be ready to face the Miami Marlins in their series finale.
“I’m not gonna put any limitation on him,” Martinez said, as aired on MASN. “We’ll see how far we can take him. We’ll keep a close eye on him but this is one of the reasons why we wanted him to go through what he did and to make sure that he’s fully ready.”
Strasburg, 33, has started just seven games for Washington since winning World Series MVP honors and signing a seven-year, $245 million extension in 2019. The three-time All-Star underwent season-ending surgeries in each of the last two years, first to address carpal tunnel neuritis in his throwing hand and then to treat thoracic outlet syndrome.
The Nationals originally expected Strasburg to only miss the first few weeks of this season while he took some extra time to ramp up. Though he’ll ultimately end up having sat out the first two months of the campaign, it’s far more important to the club that he finishes the season healthy.
Strasburg made three rehab starts, two for Single-A Fredericksburg and a third with Triple-A Rochester. Across those three outings, he posted a 1.98 ERA with 13 strikeouts and six walks. His fastball averaged 93-94 mph, an encouraging sign after his velocity dipped down to an average of 91 mph the last two seasons.
“He looks good,” Nationals President and GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday. “He’s healthy and the performance and the statistics are meaningless to me. It doesn’t matter no hits, two hits, two runs or whatever. He’s healthy, he let the ball go, his velocity was solid, his secondary stuff was firm and had action to it and he felt good afterwards.”
Having already designated Aaron Sanchez (3-3, 8.33 ERA) for assignment in late May, the Nationals won’t have to take anyone out of the rotation to make room for Strasburg. He’ll join a group that includes Patrick Corbin, Erick Fedde, Josiah Gray and Joan Adon. Left-hander Evan Lee made a spot start for his MLB debut June 1 but hasn’t pitched since.
As much as the Nationals want to see Strasburg stay healthy the rest of the season, they will also watch in earnest as their former No. 1 overall pick attempts to regain his form. Strasburg finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting after the 2019 season, the third time he appeared on the ballot during his major-league career.
“He’s our guy,” Martinez said. “Everybody knows that. So it’ll be a little uplifting for the guys knowing that he’s pitching on Thursday so…I’m just gonna go out there and watch him do what he does and see how he does and how far he can take us.”
Should Strasburg avoid falling into the disturbing trend of pitchers whose careers were derailed by thoracic outlet syndrome, the Nationals would gain back a significant building block with which to reconstruct their organization in the years to come.