The Washington Nationals’ lineup card contained a surprise on Friday afternoon. Written in as the team’s starting pitcher for the first of a three-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies was Ross Ohlendorf — not Stephen Strasburg.
Strasburg was scratched from his start Friday night after forearm soreness caused him to cut short his regular session of catch on Thursday afternoon.
The Nationals have pushed his next start to Sept. 19 and are hopeful that rest combined with anti-inflammatory medication will help alleviate whatever the right-hander is feeling.
“I was concerned,” manager Davey Johnson said, explaining that the right-hander came in after trying to go through his usual session of catch describing some tightness and stiffness in his upper forearm area. He was seen by the doctor on site in New York, and again by Nationals medical director Wiemi Douoguih
“Any time a pitcher tells me he can’t throw the ball, he doesn’t want to play catch, (I’m concerned). He came in and got treatment. The doctor in New York examined him and didn’t think it was anything serious. Just probably a little tired and tight so, here we are, he’s not pitching.”
Strasburg did not stop to talk to reporters on Friday, but Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty did their best to alleviate concerns that something more serious may be going on with the Nationals’ prized right-hander, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010.
The issue is with the soft tissue in his forearm, Johnson said, a muscular irritation that is on the opposite side of the elbow from where Strasburg’s Tommy John procedure was done.
The soreness may have been caused by Strasburg fooling around with a new pitch, as many pitchers do during their sessions of catch throughout the week, but it is unclear if that is indeed the root of it. Johnson also declined to reveal what type of new pitch Strasburg may have been working on.
“All pitchers play with grips all the time,” McCatty said. “When you play catch, you turn the ball different ways, put pressure on a finger, you mess around. That’s all he was doing, just throwing a certain pitch and he didn’t throw that many. I don’t know if that was it but if he has a problem I would like to say that’s what the irritation came from, but he only threw like seven or eight pitches messing around.
“I don’t know if that’s it or not. Guys throw, they get irritation. It’s unfortunate that it’s him, because now it becomes, ‘Oh my God, we landed on the moon.’ That’s what it was. He’s got some irritation.”
Strasburg tried to get loose and play catch twice on Thursday but couldn’t feel comfortable either time. He has been instructed to rest for two days before he returns to his usual throwing program, which the Nationals will then line up for him to be ready to start on Sept. 19 against the Miami Marlins.
Johnson said he felt “pretty confident” that Strasburg would be able to make that start, which would line up to be his third-to-last start of the regular season.
“All the doctors think it’s a non-issue, just give him some rest,” Johnson said. “It might’ve been some inflammation in there from some new muscles being used on this new pitch. Who knows.”
Strasburg is 7-9 with a 2.96 ERA this season, but it has often been a rocky road for the right-hander. His record is deceptive, with the Nationals offering him a slim 3.2 runs of support per game, and he’s also had to deal with rain several times, an ejection, a lat injury, balks, and a handful of seemingly freak happenings.
“I can’t say it’s bad luck,” McCatty said. “I don’t attribute those things to bad luck. I attribute it to baseball. That’s what our game is. Crap happens. It happens.
“Him having the balks, we’ve talked about that. We’re trying to iron it out and take care of that. Having the catcher throw a ball and it hits the batter’s bat – it happens. It’s part of it. I don’t say it’s a lot of weird things. It’s just baseball. For the most part, most games, he’s thrown the ball very, very well. As we all know, any mistake he makes is magnified a lot more than somebody else’s.