ATLANTA — Washington Nationals’ right-hander Stephen Strasburg was pulled from Friday night’s 3-2 win over the the Atlanta Braves after two innings with what manager Davey Johnson termed a “strained right oblique muscle.”
The issue had been “nagging” him in the past few starts while he warmed up, Strasburg said, but it would disappear when he got on the mound. Strasburg had turned in his three most dominant starts of the season before Friday night, but this time the pain increased in the game instead of dissipating.
“It’s something that’ s just been nagging a little bit the past few starts, and I’ve been pitching really well,” Strasburg said. “So I don’t really think about it too much. It just seemed like it started to nag me just a little bit more and more. You don’t want it to get worse to where I’ll be on the shelf for an extended period of time.”
Strasburg will return to D.C. on Saturday to visit with Nationals medical director Wiemi Douoguih to determine the extent of the injury and the best way to proceed. Johnson said Nationals did not plan to make an immediate roster move and, with an off-day on Monday, could avoid doing so until June 8.
However, right-hander Erik Davis tweeted just before 1 a.m. on Saturday that he’d gotten the “call of a lifetime,” and was “headed to the show!” That would indicate that the Nationals have a roster move coming.
Strasburg came off the field following the second inning and pitching coach Steve McCatty immediately went to the bullpen phone to get right-hander Craig Stammen up and warming. A long conversation among Strasburg, manager Davey Johnson, McCatty and Nationals trainer Lee Kuntz followed.
Eventually, McCatty was the only one doing the talking and Strasburg’s face displayed a mix of disappointment, anger and frustration.
“He’s a gamer, he wanted to continue,” Johnson said. “But I saw him wincing every throw he made, and even Suzuki made the sign, you know, like, ‘It’s not real good.’ I’m not gonna take a chance with his arm. That’s the main concern. The side will heal, but when you try to do too much with your hose out there, it’s dangerous. So he was not going to continue.”
“Honestly, I could have gone out there and kept pitching,” Strasburg said. “My command wasn’t there, but I think I definitely could have pitched through it. But, you know, Davey didn’t want to take the chance. You just got to be proactive about it, get the treatment. Hopefully, I should be able to make the next start.
“There’s a lot of times you go out there and you don’t feel 100 percent. You just go out there and gut through it. It was tough, because he kind of had his mind made up. As much as I was saying, as much as I was trying to convince him, he didn’t want me to go out there.”
Strasburg allowed a solo home run to Freddie Freeman to open the inning on a 97-mph fastball, but the right-hander got the next three batters out.
During Brian McCann’s at-bat, Strasburg’s fastball, which had been in the upper-90-mph range early on Friday, dropped into the mid-90s. He appeared to look uncomfortable on the mound and seemed to be stretching and rolling his shoulders between pitches. After McCann ground out to second base, catcher Kurt Suzuki went out and talked with Strasburg.
“Every pitch he was wiggling,” Suzuki said. “I had to double-pump every pitch because I couldn’t throw the ball back to him. So you knew something was physically wrong with him. I didn’t talk to (McCatty) or anything, so I didn’t know what was bothering him. But he was trying to say he was fine. He was throwing 98. I said, ‘Stras, your mechanics are great, you’re throwing 98. What do you want me to say?’”
“You say your mechanics are great, but still, something is not right in there. You keep going out there, you’re probably going to hurt it more. It’s not like a bruise or anything. It’s something else.”
Strasburg then struck out Dan Uggla with mostly offspeed pitches to end the inning, going fastball, curveball, curveball, changeup, curveball.
“It was more so after I threw the pitch (that it would hurt),” Strasburg said. “I think that was kind of affecting the way I was finishing everything. It’s kind of hard when you know what you’re going to feel after you throw the pitch. You just kind of go out there and try and trick your mind, thinking it’s not going to happen. But it is what it is. I can’t do anything about it. I’ve just got to take the next step and go back up to D.C., have Wiemi look at it and see what happens.”
He was relieved by Stammen, who tossed four perfect innings of relief to help save the game for the Nationals and earn the win. Stammen is now unavailable for at least a few days, as is Tyler Clippard, who threw 32 pitches, which is likely why Davis was added.
If Strasburg is out for an extended period of time, it would be just the latest blow to a Nationals team that is already dealing with injuries to Jayson Werth, Harper, Wilson Ramos and Ross Detwiler.
“Really,” Johnson said. “We seem to be having all kinds of problems, but we’ll get through it and hopefully Stras won’t miss too much time.”
The Nationals’ starting pitching depth is an area where they’re particularly thin. When Detwiler went on the disabled list with a right back muscle strain, the Nationals called up prospect Nate Karns from Double-A. A prolonged absence by Strasburg — with Detwiler still out — would, no doubt, be a significant issue for them to overcome.
With Davis coming up, perhaps Stammen would be a candidate to make that start in Strasburg’s place.
Davis had a 3.00 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 24 innings of relief with Triple-A Syracuse.