WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg is set to make his 2020 season debut on Sunday afternoon against the Orioles after missing his first two starts with a right-hand nerve issue.
“Today I talked to him,” manager Dave Martinez said Friday. “He says, ‘I feel good, so let's go for it.’”
The Nationals had kept Strasburg’s regular starting schedule in mind during his rehab. He threw a heavy bullpen, followed by a simulated game on Wednesday, and the team limited his number of pitches so he would be ready to throw on Sunday.
“We’re going to watch him,” Martinez said. “If he gives us 75, 80 pitches, I think that’d be awesome. But we’ll keep an eye on him.”
The reigning World Series Most Valuable Player Award winner is coming off a standout 2019 season in which he went 18-6 and led National League pitchers in wins and innings pitched (209). Last year, he became the first pitcher to go 5-0 in the postseason.
Strasburg is 1-0 with a 4.00 ERA in three career starts against Baltimore.
“Max is Max,” Martinez said. “He's out there today, said he feels OK. He wants to see what level he's at. So I'll talk to him more after he throws and see where he's at.”
Following his early exit, Scherzer had said he was not concerned and expects to make his next start. He leads the Nats with 22 strikeouts this season.
‘We need Sean Doolittle’
Martinez expressed his support of reliever Sean Doolittle after the lefty has accumulated a 10.80 ERA in his first three appearances.
“I have all the confidence in the world in him, I really do,” Martinez said. “We need him; he knows that. And he’s doing everything he can to get ready and stay ready. We’ve just got to put him out there and hope something clicks for him and we get him back to where he needs to be.”
Doolittle’s velocity is down early in the season. His four-seamer is averaging 90.7 mph, compared to 93.5 mph in 2019. Similarly, his slider has dropped from 83.7 mph to 80.0 mph. Opponents are batting .444 against him.
Martinez said the Nationals are not considering sending Doolittle to the alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va., noting he is "part of the core group here." Doolittle is one of two left-handers in the bullpen, and he paced NL pitchers with 55 games finished last season. Martinez's objective is finding the best matchups for Doolittle, while the nine-year veteran focuses on using his lower half and hitting the strike zone.
“He wants to help us win,” Martinez said. “And in order for us to pull this off, we need Sean Doolittle.”
Roster cuts ‘really tough’
“It was tough losing both,” Martinez said. “Bourque is a young pitcher. Losing Bonifácio was really tough. I felt like he fit in. It’s a decision that we all had to make. Hopefully, he clears waivers. We don’t know yet, so we’ll see what happens. But I love the guy, man. The guy’s a team player. He does everything you ask him to do. He’s willing to do anything. So I just wish him all the best.”