Without Stephen Strasburg, there would be no optimism surrounding the Washington Nationals franchise. How many other pitchers can you remember that were somehow making a push to appear on an all-star roster following their first Major League start? To date, it has seemed that if the Nationals had anything to worry about at all with their young phenom it’s that he may have tipped a few pitches at some point this season. Prior to Tuesday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves, Nationals fans were forced to take a collective gasp when Strasburg was scratched from his start with what’s being called an inflamed right shoulder.
Tests revealed that although there was soreness and inflammation in the shoulder, there was no structural damage. That’s obviously tremendous news for the 22-year-old, but is the discomfort something fans and members of the Nationals organization should be worried about, or is it a way of making sure he stays under his innings cap while also finishing the season?
It’s no secret that Strasburg throws hard. Check that. For a starting pitcher, he throws tremendously hard. While it’s exciting to watch, part of me always wants to cringe a little when I see a young pitcher throwing heat like Strasburg does. You’re looking at a guy who is going to be leaned on to be one of the top starters in Major League Baseball for a long, long time. Is it physically possible to throw that hard with pitches that break that sharply over such a long span? I’m sure Mark Prior would be able to shed a bit of light on that subject, so it’s obviously understandable that Washington fans would become uneasy.
Having said that, should there be panic within the organization? Not at all. Strasburg has been given a pitching limit of about 160 innings this season. The Nationals have made it clear that they will not let their emotions get the best of them and stray away from their system. The right-hander has thrown 54.1 innings so far this year, so he has plenty left to use up. Considering he’s the most exciting prospect in baseball, it’s safe to assume the Nationals’ brass would like him to be able to finish out the season while staying under his innings cap.
Washington is averaging only 23,780 in attendance this season. That puts them at 13th out of 16 teams in the National League for attendance. If not for Strasburg, they’d probably be lower on the list. For a team that’s usually lucky to fill half of its stadium on a given night, they’d be disappointed if they didn’t sell out on a night when Strasburg was scheduled to start. Why would they want to shut their money-maker down before the conclusion of the season? The best thing for their organization would be for Strasburg to remain on the Major League roster through September, so expect the Nationals to jump all over the opportunity to scratch him from a start if he has anything more than a stuffy nose before one of his scheduled appearances going forward.
Bottom line: if you’re a Nationals fan, you should be mildly concerned but certainly not frantic. You never want to hear the phrase “shoulder discomfort” accompanying a player who’s a pure power pitcher in every sense of the word. However, you should also understand that baseball is business, and business will be best for the Washington Nationals if they can keep Stephen Strasburg on their Major League roster for as long as possible without exceeding the inning limit they’ve committed to.
Stephen Strasburg scratched from start against Braves after struggling to loosen up [Washington Post]