WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg suffered a strained flexor mass in his right arm, a MRI revealed Thursday, that forced his premature exit during his start the night prior and forced Washington to hold its collective breath in the hours since. The Nationals do not have a timetable for his return, but hope to have a clearer idea when the swelling in his elbow goes down over the next four or five days.
"Normally [strained flexor masses] come around very well with treatment and strengthening programs," Nationals head athletic trainer Paul Lessard said. "It's not a season-ending injury, but we still need to the take time [to make sure that] he's nice and strong, because of his past."
Strasburg, in the third inning in his first start after missing two weeks with right elbow soreness, fired an errant pitch and grimaced. He threw one more slider before he signaled toward the dugout in clear discomfort. Lessard said the injury happened during that inning, not a result of him rushing back prematurely from the DL, or any overuse.
Manager Dusty Baker called the results a best-case scenario.
"Everybody's pretty satisfied of where we are at this point, and it's very good to know," Baker said. "Exactly the timetable we don't know, but it's good to hear that it wasn't what everybody was speculating that it was.
"I did a lot of praying last night that it wouldn't be as serious as everybody was panicking about. I think it's human nature to think the worst of all situations, and personally, I like to think the best of most situations and not let people influence my mind."
Strasburg had been enjoying one of the best seasons of his career. He began the year 13-0 with a 2.51 ERA and was named to the National League All-Star team. The Nationals committed to him long-term with a seven-year, $175 million contract extension in May.
While Lessard said this injury is not normally season-ending, it is unclear if there is enough time for Strasburg to recover, rehab and return in time for postseason play. Especially considering Strasburg's injury history, the Nationals' usually cautious approach with his arm, and the fact that the flexor mass does help stabilize the UCL.
Even after they announced the diagnosis, the Nationals did not sound like a team taking Strasburg's return this season as a certainty.
"We have to do the best for the situation with what we have and then make a determination on who is to take his place now, and possibly later," Baker said. "Is it a better option to not have Stephen, or do we not count Stephen out?
"I tell you who comes into play, big time, are guys like [Thursday's starer A.J. Cole], [Lucas Giolito], [Reynaldo López], and probably more importantly, Gio Gonzalez."