WASHINGTON — He may not be ready to start or pitch anywhere near his pre-injury levels, but if the Washington Nationals advance past the Los Angeles Dodgers to the National League Championship Series, they could have Stephen Strasburg back in the fold.
This comes after Strasburg pitched from the bullpen mound prior to Game 1, reportedly using both his fastball and change-up. He didn’t throw with 100 percent effort and only tossed about 25 pitches, but came away with boosted confidence.
“I keep telling myself that. That’s why I didn’t shut it down,” Strasburg told the media, referring to the NLCS. “So I’m working hard every single day to hopefully be in a position to pitch, but I can’t speculate on that at this point.
“This was the first day I threw off a mound, and it felt good, so I’m just going to take that and focus on the next time I get on the mound.”
That next time was supposed to be in the Nationals instructional league in Florida. But with Hurricane Matthew bearing down on Florida, the Nats disbanded and Strasburg remained with the team. He is scheduled to pitch another bullpen on Monday.
“I’m sure [the Nationals] are probably looking at that,” he said. “But I think for my career and the next seven years hopefully with this ball club, I just want to be right, and hopefully the program gets me right in some capacity while we’re still playing.
“But I can’t look that far ahead. I think I just got to keep staying the course and not do something silly that will maybe give me a setback.”
Strasburg was a Cy Young front runner after the first half of the season, pitching to a 15-1 start witha 2.63 ERA on Aug. 1. But by Aug. 17, he had lost three straight games as his ERA ballooned to 3.59. He was placed on the disabled list in what was described as a cautionary measure.
He made one more regular season start, rejoining the Nats rotation on Sept. 7, giving up one run over two and one-third innings before pain in his pitching arm brought flashbacks of his earlier Tommy John’s surgery. But what was initially diagnosed as a flexor mass strain may actually have been something different: a partial tear in his pronator tendon.
“The flexor mass connects to [the flexor mass],” he explained to the media on Friday. “There could have been a strain in there, but that was kind of the sensation I had the last time I pitched — [it] was kind of lower in here.
“That’s where the tendon connects to the flexor mass that I was battling through for a little bit.”
Regardless, Strasburg is on the road to recovery. If he doesn’t suffer any setbacks in the next week, he could be a prime candidate to be added to the Nationals’ NLCS roster.
Unlike the regular season where players can return to the roster when healthy, teams may only change their rosters before a new series begins. If the Nats fail to advance past the Dodgers, then Strasburg will have thrown his last pitch of the 2016 season.
If that’s the case, the fans at Nationals Park got a good chance before Game 1 to thank Strasburg for his dominant contributions to the team:
“This is, from a personal standpoint, this is tough to not be out there and compete with the guys,” Strasburg told the media. “But I got to put the personal side away and be a good cheerleader, at least for now, and have a lot of confidence that they’re going to get the job done.
“Hopefully I’ll be ready to go when it’s my turn.”