There’s no good answer for why Stephen Strasburg should continue pitching this season.
The nerve problem in his right hand was still bothering him before his Friday start in Baltimore. He said as much after his first start, which went well for four innings five days ago, then went off the rails. He shook his tingling right hand during that mound appearance, which came two weeks into the season. Strasburg missed his first two starts because a wrist impingement led to a nerve problem in his right hand, more specifically in his right thumb. Then he lasted an alarming ⅔ of an inning Friday night.
The Nationals said all the pain was gone. This was the key to putting Strasburg back on the mound in the first place.
“He's completely past it,” Mike Rizzo said an hour before Strasburg’s first start Aug. 9. “He wouldn't be on the mound today if he wasn't. His first outing of the season eyes are going to be on him and watch for fatigue, but we are hoping that he gives us a great start and chance to win the baseball game which he often does when he pitches."
Davey Martinez made a similar statement the day before.
“The tingling in his thumb is gone,” Martinez said. “That was the big thing for me. Nothing in his mechanics has changed. He wants to pitch. He’s ready to pitch on Sunday.”
Those statements could hold true even though Strasburg was shaking his hand on the mound during that first start. This is a nerve problem. It has all the predictability of a squirrel in the street. The injections in his wrist were meant to help it heal. The time off was intended for it to subside and slink away. Strasburg pitched off the mound twice, it went well both times, then he was sent to the rubber for his first start. Rizzo and Martinez had reason to believe he was fine to pitch.
CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST
But, there’s no reason for him to pitch again this season. Not now. Not after lasting just two outs and 16 pitches -- nine of which were balls -- against the Orioles. Strasburg looked uncomfortable almost immediately. He flexed his hand after throwing a 2-0, 92-mph fastball down the middle that Anthony Santander, the second batter of the game, hit for a home run. Strasburg threw six more pitches. During them, he yanked a fastball then flicked his hand like something sticky was on it and wouldn’t come off. Martinez and athletic trainer Paul Lessard came to the mound to visit. Head dropped, Strasburg came out of the game.
So, the Nationals sit now with a hefty decision. Strasburg, at most, can only make eight more starts in this kooky, 60-game regular season. He signed a seven-year, $245 million contract in the offseason. The organization chose him over Anthony Rendon. The future-versus-now debate was relevant before the games even began in the middle of a pandemic. It’s the only discussion that matters around Strasburg now, and, so much so, the Nationals were already pondering it before Friday night’s exit.
“Based on our conversation with him, he feels like he can work through this injury,” Martinez said. “But, you know, I want to be smart. I really do. I got to be smart. Not just for right now, but for the future, you know. He’s a big part of our future, he’s a big part of what we do here, so we want to make sure we take care of him. But, we’ll see. As you all know, he’s competitive, he’s tough. But we’ve got to be smart about this. If he’s out there and he starts shaking his hand all over the place, we’re going to have to do something else because I don’t want this to become an issue somewhere else or him to change something. He was in a good place and we want to keep him there.”
Strasburg made a similar point after his last start. In recent years, he’s learned to listen to his body more often. The idea he was unreliable, easily ruffled or just straight injury-prone no longer seeped into his mental being. If other people said it, so what? He was more concerned about maximizing his starts and contribution, which sometimes meant taking a step back.
This situation necessitates precisely that. The Nationals addressed the problem the best they could, crossed their fingers, then put Strasburg on the mound. Their prime concern was the nerve problem would become an arm problem if he was forced to change his mechanics.
There’s no reason to do it again. The risk-reward is too imbalanced. Six more years at $35 million annually needs to be the only thought now. That means Strasburg should be done after someone utters the phrase so long associated with his career: shut down.
Martinez talked to him after he came out. He talked with Lessard, he lamented what to do next. Strasburg declined through a Nationals spokesperson to talk to the media well after midnight when the game finally ended. There’s not much more to say, anyway.
“I’m going to do everything I can to take care of him,” Martinez reiterated after the game. “I don’t want to see him out there shaking his hand in pain. I think the best thing right now is to kind of shut him down and see if we can get this straightened out.”
Stay connected to the Nationals with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.
MORE NATIONALS NEWS: