A follow-up exam by the Nationals’ team doctor on Stephen Strasburg confirmed the club’s initial diagnosis when the struggling pitcher departed his last start after only one inning: He has a strained left trapezius muscle.
Strasburg hasn’t thrown since leaving Friday night’s game in Cincinnati, and he won’t be cleared to resume throwing until the muscle in his lower neck/upper back is healed, manager Matt Williams said Tuesday morning. The timetable for that development is unknown at this point.
“He will not throw until that’s taken care of,” Williams said. “But it could be within days that it feels better and he’s able to get back out there and do all the things he needs to do to get prepared to pitch again. But for right now, it’s there again, so they’re working on it.”
Strasburg has not made himself available to reporters since being placed on the DL on Saturday.
The strained left trap muscle emerged only a couple weeks after Strasburg left a previous start with discomfort under his right shoulder blade. The Nationals don’t know whether the two are related, but it appears obvious that something has caused Strasburg physical discomfort for several weeks now, playing at least some role in the worst prolonged stretch of his career.
“We have to make sure we determine what it is and fix it,” Williams said. “Whatever’s causing that in his back, we have to see if we can fix it, then get him back out there and allow him to be free and easy and pitch and do what he does best.”
Strasburg, who has a 6.55 ERA and is averaging only 4.5 innings per start this season, has been plagued by poor fastball command throughout this slump. The Nationals, though, have no evidence of significant mechanical issues by the right-hander.
“We’ve looked at it extensively,” Williams said. “[Pitching coach Steve McCatty] has looked at it, all the video. There’s minor adjustments that guys make during the course of a season, but nothing that glares at us that he’s changed or that’s drastically different, no.”
Some have wondered whether time off would benefit Strasburg, not only physically but mentally, providing him an opportunity to clear his mind. Williams doesn’t view this situation that way.
“It’s never good to go on the disabled list,” the manager said. “Nobody wants to go there. Does it give him a chance to reset? Yeah, if he’s doing stuff. If he’s doing what he needs to get back to pitch, yeah. But for right now, he’s idle. And until that calms down, he can’t get back to it. Then he can make the adjustments he needs to make, if any, and go from there.”
Strasburg’s next turn in the rotation comes up Wednesday. The Nationals haven’t announced his replacement yet, but Williams suggested Taylor Jordan would get the nod if he’s not needed during Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Blue Jays.
Meanwhile, fellow injured right-hander Doug Fister is making progress in his return from a strained forearm. Fister threw roughly 20 fastballs off a bullpen mound Monday and experienced no discomfort.
“I think it’s pretty much subsided completely,” he said, “and that’s a good thing.”
Fister will throw another bullpen session in the next few days, adding breaking balls to his repertoire. He said he was never terribly worried the injury was serious, though the condition got worse during his final start in San Diego two weeks ago.
“You know, it was really just more tight than complete, utter mayhem,” he said. “So I mean, it wasn’t a bad issue. It was more of just: ‘I really need a break for some reason, there’s so much tightness going on that we really need to address it.'”