Reigning World Series Most Valuable Player Award winner Stephen Strasburg will undergo surgery on Wednesday in Baltimore to alleviate carpal tunnel neuritis in his right hand, ending his 2020 season. The Nationals transferred him to the 60-day injured list a day after he met with a nerve specialist.
“Hopefully the surgery goes well,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said on Saturday. “The biggest thing is that the surgery relieves anything he has, and that he’s able to rehab and come back -- for me, come back strong -- next Spring Training. Long-term goal, that’s what we’re hoping for.
“If a miracle happens and, you know, but he’s still got to ramp up, and I don’t see that [being] the case. I’ve told you before that we want to make sure that he’s 100 percent when he comes back. We don’t want nothing else to break down on him. So we’re going to take this very slowly and carefully.”
The injury, which Martinez described as “very weird,” began toward the end of Summer Camp. At first, Strasburg complained about his wrist, according to Martinez, and then he started experiencing numbness in his thumb to the point where he couldn’t feel the baseball. General manager Mike Rizzo said on Sunday this type of injury can be caused by repetition over the years.
“You can only surmise that it’s from throwing breaking pitches and changeups throughout his lifetime and career, and I think it’s taken its toll on him in that regard,” Rizzo said. “Again, we feel that it’s an injury that he should make a full recovery from and be ready for the season in ‘21.”
Strasburg, 32, missed his first two starts of the regular season. He tried to pitch through the discomfort, but he had appeared in only five innings over two outings, including an early exit after two-thirds of a frame on Aug. 14.
After exploring options, Martinez said Strasburg was “very receptive” when the organization discussed the decision for surgery with him. A timeframe for Strasburg’s next baseball-related steps will be determined following the procedure. Per MLB protocol, players on the IL are required to rehab at the alternate training site.
“He wants to get this right,” Martinez said. “He’s disappointed that he couldn’t finish out this season. But I told him, ‘Let’s just get this fixed.’ He was hoping that maybe he could fight through this, but for me, it doesn’t make any sense that he goes out there and tries to do what he did his last outing.”
Coming off a triumphant 2019 performance, Strasburg signed a then-record seven-year, $245 million contract last December. The injury limited him to just five innings (0-1, 10.80 ERA) over two starts in his 11th season.
“He’s a huge part of this future,” Martinez said. “He’s here for many, many years, so we want to get him healthy.”
How it impacts the starting lineup
Right-hander Erick Fedde, who had been starting in place of Strasburg, will be moved from the bullpen into the rotation. He had been a final candidate for the fifth-starter job, which went to Austin Voth. In two starts this season, Fedde is 0-0 with a 3.68 ERA over 7 1/3 innings.
“I talked to him about that,” Martinez said. “I said, ‘Nothing changes for you. You just go out there every five days, stay on your routine and keep throwing the ball the way you’re throwing.' He’s sad that Strasburg’s hurt, but then he knows that he gets an opportunity to go in there and start. Hopefully he does well.”
In need of a starter for the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Marlins, the Nationals selected the contract of right-hander Wil Crowe, who is the club's No. 5 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and added him as the 29th man. He took the 5-3 loss after allowing four runs over 3 2/3 innings in his Major League debut.
How it impacts the bullpen
The original layout for the Nationals' pitching staff this season had Fedde in the bullpen as a long-man option. Now that he has moved into a starter’s role, that leaves a gap of innings that need to be filled by relievers.
“Now you’ve got to look at guys like [Ryne] Harper and [Javy] Guerra, maybe [Wander] Suero,” Martinez said. “You start looking at the guys that can get four outs for you or five outs for you and try to piece it all together. … For right now, I feel confident in the guys that we’ve got in that bullpen.”
The Nationals also have prospects in Fredericksburg, Va., who could be called upon if need be -- like Crowe, Seth Romero and Dakota Bacus. The Nationals' first overall picks from the last two Drafts, right-handers Jackson Rutledge (No. 3 prospect) and Cade Cavalli (No. 4), are among those at the alternate training site.
“It gives some of our young guys an opportunity to shine and see what they can do,” Rizzo said. “I think it’s a next-man-up type of attitude in that clubhouse, and I think it gives us a chance to kind of show off what our depth in this organization is. I think you could see by the players that we’ve brought up in the last couple of weeks or so that they’re young, they’re energetic, they’re talented players who are going to propel us to a positive future.”