Aug 30, 2015, 6:32 PM EDT
For the second time in a span of four days, the Nationals won a game that was defined by an unfortunate injury to one of their best players. On Thursday, they beat the Padres but lost Denard Span. Michael Taylor and Yunel Escobar also left the game banged up.
It was a pyrrhic victory. They won, but they also lost. Time will tell if Sunday’s game will follow the same path.
The Nats beat the Marlins 7-4 on Sunday, but saw Stephen Strasburg exit after throwing just 60 pitches through four innings. His problem? The same upper back discomfort that landed him on the disabled list in late May.
Strasburg was off and his velocity was down. Clearly he was not the same pitcher who had a 1.73 ERA in four starts since coming off the DL.
But exactly why that was the case was not revealed until afterwards when manager Matt Williams gave an explanation.
“He had some discomfort in his upper back. So a little bit of a recurrence of earlier in the year,” Williams said. “He had a little bit of discomfort his last inning and showed us that when he was reaching, when he was following through, it just was uncomfortable again. We decided to get him out of the ballgame at that point.”
Williams said Strasburg will be re-evaluated over the next few days to determine if another DL stint is needed. But Strasburg is hopeful that will not be necessary. The right-hander said he felt something similar after his last start on Aug. 25 and was able to correct it in the following days with help from the team’s medical staff.
“I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion. Last time it kind of crept up. It was literally, I got the treatment and then in one to two days it felt normal. I think it’s just something that I’m going to have to grind through and get through the year and then figure out exactly what it is in the offseason,” he said.
Strasburg described the injury as a “ball” in his upper back. The Nats know where it is, but exactly how to cure it has become a mystery.
“We’ve had the tests and it’s not really like a muscular thing,” Strasburg explained. “It’s kind of just like this ball. It’s strange. It’s not a cyst. It’s just kind of this little knot that is just like there and it doesn’t really hurt to the tough. Sometimes when it gets a little pissed off, just with the grind of throwing and everything, it just kind of causes everything else around it to get a little upset, too. Last time it kind of flared up, I treated it and it felt great very quickly after that.”
This recent injury for Strasburg, a recurring ailment, is a continuation of what has been a long year of minor health problems for the former No. 1 overall pick. Strasburg first hurt his left ankle in spring training and that caused him to alter his pitching mechanics. Those changes caused him to compensate and his upper back tightened up. He left the team’s May 5 loss to the Marlins with discomfort under his right shoulder blade.
Strasburg made four more starts before going on the disabled list for the first time this season. That was on May 30 when he was diagnosed with a left trapezius strain. He was sidelined for over three weeks before returning on June 23 to face the Braves.
Strasburg would make three starts after coming back from the trap injury before he went down again. He was removed after just one inning against the Giants on July 4 and was placed on the DL the following day with a left oblique strain.
Strasburg missed another month, but came back to pitch brilliantly over the last four weeks. This is another setback in what has become a trying year for the former All-Star who finished ninth in NL Cy Young voting in 2014.
“To be honest, it’s been tough. But I think it’s going to make me stronger as a person and as a player. It’s not the way I drew it up, but everything happens for a reason. I’m just going to keep grinding. I’m not going to quit. I know that it’s all going to come out in the wash eventually,” he said.
Strasburg’s next scheduled start is Sept. 4 at home against the Atlanta Braves. He will travel with the Nationals to St. Louis as they take on the Cardinals and test his back in a bullpen session. From there the Nats will know if Strasburg can remain in their rotation, or if they will have to overcome yet another injury to one of their most important players this season.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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