Strasburg faces season-ending surgery

July 28th, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- For the second straight year, Stephen Strasburg's season has come to a premature end as a result of a lingering injury concern.

It was announced on Tuesday that Strasburg will undergo season-ending surgery to address a neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). He'll undergo the procedure in Dallas.

“It definitely hurts the team," manager Dave Martinez said prior to Tuesday's 6-4 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. "But with that being said, Stephen has worked to try to come back, and unfortunately, this is the step we have to take now. Hopefully we get this fixed and he'll be ready to come back and help us next year. I know he's frustrated, as we all are, but sometimes things don't work out like you want, and we've got to move forward.”

Strasburg, who turned 33 on July 20, had not appeared in a game since exiting his June 1 outing against the Braves after just 1 1/3 innings. The three-time All-Star later experienced an aching feeling following a July 9 bullpen session as he attempted to work his way back. The discomfort subsided and Strasburg played long toss without any issue, but he once again had the same feeling after a July 21 bullpen session.

It was at that point that the Nationals scaled back his rehab and reassessed the situation. They opted to send him to another neck specialist on Monday, ultimately resulting in Tuesday's announcement.

"It's tough to see a guy like that going through so many injuries, because he's a hard worker," Nationals outfielder Juan Soto said. "Every time you see him, he's trying his best to get back on the field. Just to see him going back and forth, it's tough. I hope he can get ready and be back on the field soon."

Multiple big league pitchers have undergone surgery for TOS in recent years, including Tampa Bay's Chris Archer when he was with the Pirates last season. In Archer’s case, he underwent his procedure on June 3, 2020, and made his spring debut on March 12 -- plenty of time to be ready by Opening Day. Of course, Strasburg’s surgery is taking place nearly two months later than Archer's did, but Martinez said the club will have a better idea of Strasburg’s timetable once the procedure is complete.

“He's having the surgery, so we'll have to wait and see what the outcome was of the surgery and then we'll go from there. It's a long rehab process,” Martinez said. “Hopefully he goes through rehab and starts throwing. It's going to be a slow progression to get him back, and hopefully he comes back. Right now, I'm saying that he's going to help us in [2022], and that's what I've got to believe."

Strasburg's season ended after just 21 2/3 innings over five starts. That came on the heels of a 2020 campaign in which he was limited to just five innings before undergoing season-ending carpal tunnel surgery on his right hand.

Put it all together and Strasburg has totaled 26 2/3 innings -- during which he has a 5.74 ERA -- since winning the 2019 World Series MVP Award.

“What he did in '19 for us -- he was a big reason why we did what we did and we were able to win the world championship,” Martinez said. “For him to have all these issues, it's frustrating for him. It's frustrating for us.”

The Nationals signed Strasburg to a seven-year, $245 million deal -- one that will keep him with Washington through the 2026 season -- following that brilliant performance in the '19 postseason. At the time, the deal marked a record for both total money committed to a pitcher and the highest average annual value for a pitcher, though each mark has since been surpassed.

“One thing that I thought about last night is really thinking about him and what he's going through, and when he comes back, just trying to be as positive as I can with him and encourage him to just stay with it and try to get ready for Spring Training,” Martinez said. “He still has a lot of years here, and a healthy Strasburg can help us win a lot of games. So I'm really pushing for that, I'm hoping for that, and I know he feels the same way. He wants to get back on the mound and help us win games.”