Stephen Strasburg will undergo neurogenic thoracic outlet surgery Wednesday in Dallas, Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez said Tuesday, ending the right-hander’s season. Martinez said he hopes Strasburg will be ready for spring training in 2022, but he doesn’t know the exact timetable for recovery.
Strasburg has been on the injured list since June 2 as he battled nerve irritation in his neck. Strasburg visited Dr. Gregory Pearl — a thoracic outlet syndrome specialist who also operated on Nationals reliever Will Harris earlier this year — on Monday. That night, Strasburg decided the surgery was the best course of action, shutting down his 2021 season.
“Stephen has worked to try to come back, and unfortunately, this is the steps we’ve gotta take now,” Martinez said. “But hopefully we get this fixed and he’ll be ready to come back and help us next year. I know he’s frustrated, as we all are, but sometimes things don’t work out how you want and we gotta move forward. Hopefully this will help us move forward. At least now, hopefully we know what’s going on, and he rehabs, and we get him back.”
This is another setback for Strasburg, who has dealt with ample injuries during his career. Since he helped Washington win the World Series in 2019 — resulting in a seven-year, $245 million contract — Strasburg has made seven starts.
His 2020 campaign was cut short after five innings due to carpal tunnel surgery. He managed five starts and 21 2/3 innings in 2021, with two separate stints on the injured list. Between April and May, a strained right shoulder held him out. Martinez said they don’t know if the neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome is what caused that shoulder pain.
As Strasburg attempted to work back from the nerve irritation in his neck that cropped up during a start June 1, the Nationals often had to scale back his workload. The discomfort would crop up when he pitched off a mound.
“We all saw him out there throwing long toss at 200 feet, he threw some really good bullpens and we thought he was progressing,” Martinez said. “And then he’d come back the next day, he was sore. We couldn’t figure it out, they’d work through it, he’d go back. Again, he got back on the mound and he’d get sore again.”
For some time, Washington didn’t know what was wrong with Strasburg, prompting Monday’s trip to Dr. Pearl. Thoracic outlet syndrome is caused when blood vessels or nerves are compressed between the collarbone and first rib, according to Mayo Clinic, which can lead to pain in the shoulder and neck and numbness in the fingers.
Martinez said he tends to try everything to avoid surgery. But with Strasburg’s latest injury, there didn’t seem to be a valid alternative. There isn’t a guarantee that Strasburg’s recovery is routine, either; Martinez called Strasburg’s upcoming rehab a “slow progression.”
Strasburg earned World Series MVP honors in 2019, but he has played a limited role for the Nationals since then. He’s under contract through the 2026 season. So Martinez, viewing Strasburg as an organizational centerpiece, thinks the right-hander still has much to offer Washington in the years to come.
“For him to have all these issues, it’s frustrating for him, it’s frustrating for us,” Martinez said. “One thing that I thought about last night was really thinking about him, what he’s going through. Trying to be as positive as I can with him, and encourage him to stay with it and try to get ready for spring training. Because he still has a lot of years here, and a healthy Strasburg could help us win a lot of games.”