Strasburg has to 'pitch through' nerve issue

August 9th, 2020

WASHINGTON -- The first pitch clocked at 91.6 mph, and was on his way.

The reigning World Series MVP made his season debut in a Sunday matinee against the Orioles after missing his first two scheduled starts because of a nerve issue in his right hand. Trying to help his team salvage a win in the series before the game was suspended in the top of the sixth inning, the 11-year veteran looked in midseason form quickly, needing just 43 pitches to carve through his first four innings.

“The first few innings, he was cruising, doing well,” manager Dave Martinez said.

Strasburg looked to take command into the fifth, but his body began to feel the impact of the up-and-downs of the innings. He’d get hot, then he’d sit, then try to get hot again. The Orioles took advantage of his waning momentum with an offensive onslaught.

"Went out there for the fifth, gave it everything I had," Strasburg, "and wasn’t very good."

After a quick out by Dwight Smith Jr., Strasburg loaded the bases with two consecutive singles and a walk, and five O's crossed the plate from there. By the time Martinez called on from the bullpen, Strasburg's line jumped to five runs on seven hits and one walk with two strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings. He threw 26 pitches in his final frame.

Toward the end of Strasburg’s outing, the lingering effects of his hand injury were noticeable to him.

“To be honest, I felt it,” Strasburg said. “I don't know if it was necessarily fatigue or just not having necessarily the stamina built up quite yet, but it's something where I don't think I'm doing any long-term harm on it. But it does have an impact on being able to feel the baseball and being able to commit to pitches. That's something I haven't quite figured out, how to pitch through it yet. So I think the goal is to continue to get built up and get the pitch count up to where that won't be flaring up over the course of the start.”

Strasburg is viewing the discomfort as something he has to overcome. His goal is to “tighten things up a little bit” on the mound and learn how to adapt to the nerve issue before his next start.

“I think, for the most part, I’m symptom-free, and that’s a positive,” Strasburg said. “Now it’s just kind of trying to commit to it, trying to trust the stuff now. … It’s something where I’ve just got to kind of work through it, and the more reps I get, the sharper I’ll get.”

Strasburg is coming off a 2019 performance in which he went 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA, leading the National League in wins (18) and innings (209) before his historic postseason run.

In spite of the final outcome on Sunday, Strasburg’s return put the Nationals one step closer to having their full starting rotation healthy and on a five-day schedule for the first time this season. (tweaked right hamstring) is expected to start on Tuesday after a first-inning exit from his last appearance.

“I think it's a process,” Strasburg said. “I know it'll only get better.”