Nats fans are forgiven if they felt trapped in a glass case of emotion on Tuesday night during a 3-0 win over the Atlanta Braves. A sellout crowd booed heartily when it heard rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg had been scratched from his scheduled start. Let’s be honest – without Strasburg pitching that crowd is closer to 18,000 at Nationals Park with Braves fans making up a sizeable chunk. Those boos turned to concern, however, when we learned that Strasburg had trouble “getting loose” – as general manager Mike Rizzo so vaguely termed it – in the bullpen before the game.
Not that anyone is out of the woods yet. But the Nats at least got some good news after Strasburg underwent an MRI and X-rays under the watchful eye of team doctor Wiemi Douoguih. He does have shoulder stiffness and inflammation. And we did learn that Strasburg has had this problem in the past when pitching for San Diego State – though not yet as a professional. Strasburg wasn’t made available to the media afterwards. He showered after his warmup was cut short, left the ballpark for his medical tests and was sent directly home.
Rizzo didn’t want to say what he needs to see from Strasburg before allowing him to make his next start. That is scheduled for Sunday against the Phillies. We’ll find out more about that once Strasburg begins taking anti-inflammatories and is re-examined on Wednesday.
“You always like the positive news that the caution you showed was worthwhile and that this is something given a couple of days rest he should be better,” Rizzo said.
Strasburg will not undergo any further tests – and if true then that's the best evidence we have that this isn’t a serious injury. Rizzo said Strasburg would be shut down for the season if he isn’t able to pitch for a significant length of time and it didn’t make sense to waste a few weeks building back his arm strength. For now, the injury does not change the organization’s plans to pitch Strasburg for 160 total innings this summer before cutting his season short. If he is able to pitch soon it won't alter his pitch count, either. That’s usually been between 90 and 100 pitches depending on the day. But for Rizzo it wasn't a tough decision to hold out Strasburg - even if it meant enduring the wrath of a sellout crowd that came to see him perform.
“A lot of people came to see Stephen Strasburg pitch and [are] disappointed in the fact that they’re not going to be able to see him,” Rizzo said. “Unfortunately, I can’t worry about that. I have to worry about the long-term longevity of the pitcher and what’s good for the franchise.”
Washington pitching coach Steve McCatty told manager Jim Riggleman by phone from the bullpen that Strasburg was having trouble getting loose. He felt a little more time would probably help the 21-year-old get through it. No one, though, had the stomach to go that route.
“But I didn’t hear in Steve McCatty’s voice that this has a chance to be something real serious,” Riggleman said of their conversation. “And hopefully it’s not.”
» Miguel Batista made his first start since Aug. 25, 2008. He earned his first victory as a starter since May 11, 2008.
» Nats relievers Tyler Walker (right shoulder) and Jesse English (bone chips in his left elbow) both may undergo season-ending surgeries. Walker hasn’t pitched for the team since June 19. English began the year with the team, but hasn’t pitched in the majors since April 20.
» Nyjer Morgan stole two bases in the first inning. He is now 27-for-40 on the season after a dismal start in that category and has stolen safely in 10 of his last 11 attempts.
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