History hasn’t quite repeated itself this April for Nationals’ ace Stephen Strasburg.
A year ago, coming off Tommy John surgery, he earned National League Pitcher of the Month honors.
As we’re about to hit May, Strasburg’s 2013 season might have some question marks, and it has nothing to do with an innings limit this time.
The health of Strasburg’s right arm – which Washington has repeatedly tried to treat like a precious Fabergé Egg – is once again in the spotlight after Nationals manager Davey Johnson hooked him in Monday night’s loss to the Braves.
At issue is what Johnson termed ” tightness” in his forearm.
It could be nothing. Johnson saw Strasburg consistently shaking his arm during the start and didn’t like what he saw, so he pulled him after six innings. To that point, Strasburg had thrown 93 pitches – 53 for strikes – walking four and striking out eight.
Strasburg didn’t answer questions about his arm but did make it seem like it’s not an issue, at least to him. Via the Washington Times:
“I’m not missing my next start,” Strasburg said. “I’ll tell you right now.”
Given Strasburg’s injury history and the way the Nationals have tried to coddle his golden right arm, anytime words like “tightness” are thrown around, it raises some red flags. No matter how many safeguards a team puts in place, pitching a baseball in the Major Leagues is a violent act. As much as announcers love to talk about pitch counts, it’s not like once a guy passes that 100-pitch barrier his arm turns into a pumpkin. There still doesn’t seem to be a sure-fire way from preventing pitchers from developing arm trouble.
Washington tried to play it safe by shutting down Strasburg after 159 1/3 inning last year and holding him out of the NLDS. Barely a month into the new season, that cautious approach will again be called into question – on both sides of the innings limit debate – should Strasburg’s “tightness” in his forearm develop into something more serious.
[RELATED: MLB Top 50 Players for 2013]
The Nationals are a team with World Series aspirations this year, so it does make sense to play it safe with their righty ace and nip a potential issue in the bud before it gets worse – if that’s even the case.
Although his numbers aren’t as dominant as last April, Strasburg isn’t pitching as poorly as his 1-4 record might indicate. He’s still got 36 strikeouts in 37+ innings. His Batting Average Against is at .231, compared to .230 for the entire 2012 season.
Washington plays at Pittsburgh on Sunday, which would be Strasburg’s schedule date to start.
Given the Nationals’ track record with Strasburg, it would probably be more of a surprise if he’s actually on the mound at PNC Park than in the dugout. [Washington Times]