Stras' exit casts pall over Nats' skid-ending W

Right-hander has right trapezius tightness; MRI planned for Wednesday

June 2nd, 2021

ATLANTA -- The Nationals snapped their five-game losing streak, but the bigger question is, will they lose for any period of time -- again?

Strasburg exited Tuesday’s 11-6 victory over the Braves after throwing 30 pitches over 1 1/3 innings because of tightness in his right trapezius muscle. He will undergo an MRI on Wednesday.

“When you have to take someone out of the game, especially one of your starting pitchers, I’m always concerned until I know what’s going on,” manager Dave Martinez said. “It’s concerning.”

The right-hander’s night got off to a rocky beginning when he walked leadoff batter Ronald Acuña Jr. on four pitches. Martinez and director of athletic training Paul Lessard made a visit to the mound after they noticed he was trying to move his neck, and Strasburg told them he wanted to try to throw through the stiffness.

“He tried to pitch through it,” Martinez said. “I told Paul, I said[,] [']I don’t want to see him going through it. Let’s get him out and see what’s wrong with him, and we’ll have to figure it out.['] But he couldn’t get it loose.”

Martinez saw further cause for concern in the top of the second when Strasburg squared up to bunt with a runner in scoring position, unprompted.

“The big indication was, he loves to swing the bat,” Martinez said. “We wanted him to swing. He took one swing, and then he went back to bunting. Then I told Paul, we’ve got to keep an eye on him.”

Strasburg’s outing came to an end in the bottom half of the inning when he took a 109.6 mph comebacker from William Contreras off his glove. This time, he walked off the field at Truist Park following the mound visit and was replaced by Austin Voth out of the bullpen, who had received advance notice during the first frame that he might be needed to pitch.

Strasburg allowed one hit, one run, two walks and recorded one strikeout in his fifth start of the season. He threw 14 of his 30 pitches for strikes, and his velocity topped at 91.6 mph, less than his season average of 92.1 mph.

“The line drive was hit back at him, and at that point, I said, ‘This is not fair to him. It’s not,’” Martinez said. “He waved us off. But I told him, we’ve got to be smart.”

Strasburg has been battling injuries since being named the 2019 World Series Most Valuable Player. Last year, he was limited to five innings over two starts because of carpal tunnel neuritis in throwing hand, which required season-ending surgery.

He entered Spring Training healthy, but he was sidelined by right shoulder inflammation in mid-April and missed a span of 31 games. Strasburg has made three starts since his return and had been looking to get back in a rhythm.

“I know he’s frustrated,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “For us, it’s frustrating too because we know what Stephen can be and we know that we need that guy if we’re going to get to where we want to go this year. I can tell you, it’s not for lack of effort or for lack of wanting to be out there. I’ve known Stephen for a long time, and he wants the ball as much as anyone else and puts in as much work as anyone else. That’s what makes you feel even worse for him.”

While Voth came through with three innings of long relief for Strasburg, the Nats were hoping to preserve their bullpen on Tuesday. Jon Lester is starting the following day on short rest while Erick Fedde is scheduled to make a Minor League start with the High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks on Thursday in his return from the COVID-19 IL. In total, Washington made six calls to the bullpen.

“We’ll have to figure out the pieces here,” Martinez said of Wednesday’s arms.

The Nationals’ bats came alive following Strasburg’s exit to give the pitching staff a cushion. Juan Soto recorded his first multi-RBI game since May 15, including a two-run homer in the eighth, and Ryan Zimmerman belted his sixth home run of the season. The Nats’ 11 runs were the most scored in a Strasburg start this season.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Soto said of the Nationals’ run support. “Not just for Stras, for everybody.”