Two Nationals starting pitchers began their minor league rehab assignments on Tuesday — with differing results.
Stephen Strasburg, who has barely pitched since winning the 2019 World Series MVP award and signing a $245 million contract, displayed poor command in his 2 2/3 innings with Single-A Fredericksburg, but he exited the game healthy. Joe Ross, meanwhile, pitched well in his three innings, but he didn’t leave the outing as healthy as he entered.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez said Wednesday that Ross, who is working his way back from a pair of elbow injuries, suffered a “setback” during his start for Double-A Harrisburg on Tuesday night. Martinez said Ross was pulled early after feeling tightness in his right elbow and that the club is awaiting his MRI results.
“It’s concerning, because it’s his elbow again, but I don’t want to jump to any conclusions until we get the MRI back,” Martinez said before the Nationals’ game against the Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon. “… Unfortunately, it’s a little setback for Joe. Hopefully we get the results back from the MRI and it’s nothing major.”
The setback is the latest in a long line of injuries for Ross, who has been a starting pitcher for the Nationals since 2015 but has never started more than 20 games in a season. His first big injury as a major leaguer came in 2017 when he underwent elbow reconstruction surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament.
In 2021, Ross was having the best season of his career with a 4.17 earned-run average and 109 strikeouts in 108 innings. But he was shut down in August with a partially torn UCL and then suffered his initial setback during the offseason when he had surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow.
Martinez said the 29-year-old’s velocity dropped in the third inning after topping out at 95 mph in the first two frames. Ross ended his day with four strikeouts and no walks in three scoreless innings.
But for Strasburg, who was pitching in his first competitive game since June 2021, there was “good news” for Martinez to report.
“The good news is he felt good,” Martinez said. “He was sore today, but it was typical soreness. He’ll get ready to throw again in five days.”
The 33-year-old former No. 1 overall pick allowed three hits and three runs while striking out three and walking four in his short outing.
“It was good last night, because I finally started to see more of my stuff come back,” said Strasburg, who topped out at 94 mph during the outing. “Now it’s like: Rein it in a little better and go from there.”
Strasburg was held to around 60 pitches Tuesday, but the goal for the remainder of his rehab stint is to get up to six innings and/or 90 pitches before he returns to the District. The earliest he can return from the 60-day injured list is June 8.
“He was in a controlled environment in West Palm Beach, but now he’s got to go out there and compete,” Martinez said. “I want him to get used to competing again and being in high-leverage situations and working through some things.”
Strasburg started only two games in 2020 before his season ended due to carpal tunnel surgery. He then started five games last year before ending a second-straight season due to injury, this time for thoracic outlet syndrome surgery.
“The big difference with this rehab is I haven’t really gotten sore, it’s been more of fatigue and affects the shoulder stability of it,” Strasburg said, according to MASN. “I have normal soreness today, which is good. I feel like it’s once I get to that point where I’m sore out of an outing, that usually seems to build better after that.”