Reigning World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg has logged all of five innings for the Nationals this season. After reportedly being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition that could require surgery, the 32-year-old may not add to that total anytime soon.
Strasburg was scratched from his start July 25 against the Yankees because of a nerve issue in his throwing hand. He landed on the injured list shortly after. The three-time All-Star returned to action a little over a week later, debuting against the Orioles in a game that took five days to complete after initially being suspended by rain. Strasburg made just one more turn in the Nats’ rotation before suffering another setback, bowing out after 16 agonizing pitches last Friday (that game was also against Baltimore). Strasburg’s carpal tunnel diagnosis was confirmed Thursday following his visit to a hand specialist.
Whether the injury is related to overuse—Strasburg’s combined 245 1/3 innings between the playoffs and regular season last year were easily a career-high—sheer bad luck or some messy combination of the two, the odds of him taking the mound again in 2020 are slim, bordering on non-existent. Though it feels like the season just started—the Nationals have only appeared in 21 games thus far—the abbreviated 60-game schedule (a result of MLB’s four-month COVID hiatus) doesn’t leave Strasburg much time to recover.
This was surely not what the Nats had in mind when they paid top dollar for Strasburg this past offseason, retaining their long-time ace on a lucrative, seven-year, $245-million splurge. Drafted first overall in 2009 following a decorated career at San Diego State, Strasburg has been among the most effective hurlers in baseball over the past decade, contributing a lifetime 10.58 K/9—fifth-highest in MLB history behind Yu Darvish, Randy Johnson, Chris Sale and teammate Max Scherzer—over 241 big-league starts. However, Strasburg’s violent mechanics have often raised durability concerns, which could explain why he’s reached the 200-inning plateau on just two occasions.
With Scherzer and stud left-hander Patrick Corbin in tow, Washington arguably has a deep enough staff to withstand the loss of Strasburg. But if that’s to happen, the Nationals better wake up soon. Still groggy from last year’s deep playoff run, the 9-12 Nats are battling a World Series hangover for the ages. Fortunately, a favorable upcoming slate against Miami, Philadelphia and Boston could provide some relief on that front.
Now that carpal tunnel has reduced him to spectator status for the time being, let’s hope Strasburg can behave himself, unlike last week when the mouthy right-hander was asked to leave Citi Field after barking at home-plate umpire Carlos Torres from his seat in Section 121.