WASHINGTON -- Thirty-one games had passed with Stephen Strasburg looking on from a distance. For over a month, he rehabbed, threw bullpens and sim games and traveled to Trenton, N.J., to complete a Triple-A assignment. By Friday, he was ready to be reinstated from the injured list, and that eagerness to get back on the mound showed in a shutout return.
Strasburg was cleared to start on Friday night against the Orioles without restrictions in the Battle of the Beltways opener at Nationals Park. He had been on the IL since April 18, retroactive to April 15, because of right shoulder inflammation.
“He was going to give us everything he had, get as many outs as he can, and that’s what he did tonight,” manager Dave Martinez said after the Nats’ 4-2 win.
In his first appearance since April 13, Strasburg allowed one hit, issued four walks and struck out four over 5 1/3 innings against Baltimore. He tossed 72 pitches (39 strikes) and reached 94.5 mph on his fastball while picking up his first win since Sept. 26, 2019.
“I just needed to get out there, and [I’ve] got to start somewhere,” Strasburg said.
Strasburg opened the game with a 1-2-3 first inning, and he did not allow a hit after giving up a leadoff single to Anthony Santander in the second. He was replaced by Kyle Finnegan in the sixth with one out after issuing his second walk in four batters faced. Strasburg felt like he ran out of gas toward the end of his outing -- at one point, he even asked to switch out the ball in hopes it would help with his execution -- but it was important for him to go through the process of getting up and down for six innings.
“I feel like I’ve done this enough times where yeah, the results are always great but I think [from an] execution standpoint, there’s definitely some room for improvement,” he said. “I think it was a step in the right direction, but again, I think there’s still some work to be done.”
Friday marked just Strasburg’s third start of the season. The shoulder inflammation was a disappointing setback after he was limited to just five innings in 2020 because of carpal tunnel in his throwing hand, and he reported to Spring Training healthy for his 12th Major League season.
“I feel like the shoulder stuff is like a symptom of stuff I’ve been doing mechanically,” Strasburg said. “It’s been a grind. It’s not where I wanted to be, but it’s a step in the right direction. I’ve just got to take it one day at a time and just keep working at it.”
In addition to the burst of run support Strasburg received in the fifth when Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber sailed back-to-back doubles and Josh Harrison also drove an RBI single into right field, he felt a surge from the crowd of 14,000-plus that gave a standing ovation as he exited the game.
“I think not having it for so long, you kind of take it for granted,” Strasburg said. “You really rely on that. You get the fans into the game, and it gives you that extra boost. The atmosphere changes so much, and I think we really appreciate it as players.”
Moving forward, the Nats will have to determine the look of their pitching staff with Strasburg back. Righty Erick Fedde had stepped into the starting rotation, as he did last season when Strasburg was injured. Fedde is 3-4 with a 4.35 ERA, including seven scoreless innings against the D-backs on Sunday. He was placed on the COVID-19 IL on Thursday and remains in quarantine in Chicago as part of health and safety protocols.
In the meantime, Strasburg will prepare for his next start in five games. Shortly after Friday’s outing, he already knew what he wanted to improve on to build up momentum for the season.
“It really comes down to just staying within myself. I think when you get in these bad habits, especially when you start to feel some arm fatigue or some soreness or whatever, that you start feeling like you have to create more. For me, that kind of makes it worse,” he said. “It’s a work in progress, but I would say that for the most part, it’s just staying within myself and just letting everything happen at release point.”