Oh come on. That’s not how sportsmanship in Washington works, is it? Despite all the Capitals and Cup highs in 2018 and the Nationals’ finished fight in 2019, it feels like there are more moments like Monday, when Nationals manager Dave Martinez announced that Strasbourg would return to the list of injured and would have an MRI. As the brain spirals downward, it’s not unreasonable to find a bottom where paralyzing questions await: Will Strasburg’s seven-year, $245 million contract remain one of the worst in baseball history? In all sports?
If the answer to both questions is “yes”, then what follows carries with it the potential for an even greater disaster: the national championships, with a $35 million annual commitment to a pitcher who currently cannot throw, can they build a competitive roster around that deadweight?
And if the answer to this is a version of “Not Likely”, so it becomes fair to consider another painful step in this never-ending game of if-this-then-that: can Juan Soto be convinced to stay, even if there is no is there any guarantee when or if each year for the playoffs will be realistic again?
What questions do you have about Stephen Strasburg’s backhand? Ask for La Poste.
We are not there yet. But it’s both natural and frightening to mentally stumble down this slippery slope. They are a last place team that will almost certainly finish in last place. One of the pieces that could be part of the solution is back on ice. Even with all the unknowns, it’s hard to see a glass half full.
And it’s not just because of where Strasbourg is. It’s because of where he’s been. This is the 15th trip on the injured list of Strasbourg’s career. These injuries interrupted 10 of Strasbourg’s 13 seasons.
If I feel like it’s still something, it’s because it’s still something. Full accounting? Sit down and make yourself comfortable. It will take some time.
Strasbourg was discharged with the following conditions, in chronological order, dating back to 2010: right shoulder inflammation, right forearm flexor strain (which led to Tommy John’s operation), mild strain side, neck tightness, left oblique sprain, back pain, right elbow pain, right elbow nerve impingement, right shoulder inflammation, cervical nerve impingement, right carpal tunnel neuritis, right carpal tunnel neuritis, right shoulder inflammation (again), a sprained neck, recovery from thoracic outlet surgery – and finally, everything he has to do with now. Experts in orthopedic sports medicine could use his body alone to teach the lessons of a career.
Drawing conclusions from this make-your-own salad of evils is difficult. One thing to throw away, however, is the idea that Strasbourg is somehow fragile in its constitution. His body has failed him, time and time again, to the point that it’s only fair to wonder about his future. But look him in the eye and listen to the frustration in his voice as he talks about his setbacks, and it’s clear he doesn’t just view them in the context of his career. He considers them in the context of the trajectory of the only franchise he has ever played for – and, in all likelihood, ever will play for.
This, from just last month, after his first start in rehab at Class A Fredericksburg – thinking about the state of the team he hadn’t been able to pitch for.
“I think it’s easy for me to put it all on myself and be like, ‘Okay, we’re not playing well because I’m not healthy,'” he said. “I’ve spent too many sleepless nights thinking that.”
This, from a conversation we had in practice last spring: “I racked my brains trying to figure out what the future will be like, and I don’t have a crystal ball.”
Stephen Strasburg will return to the injured list after just one start
This, after the last start of 2018, when he completed two stints on the IL and was limited to 22 starts: “It seems like every year there’s something different, and obviously I’ve had enough fed up.”
In all those years since he was picked with the first pick in the 2009 draft, since the “Strings” of his debut in 2010 – a statement of 14 strikeouts that is still one of the top five events sports people I’ve seen live – we don’t really know him as a person. He’s introverted, even shy, and though his comfort level in Washington has grown exponentially — to the point where his off-season trips to his hometown of San Diego are less frequent — he hasn’t let us do it like the others. . Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Max Scherzer have markedly different personalities. But during their time here, each has sufficiently revealed that their relationship with the fanbase is tied not only to performance on the pitch, but also how they behave and present themselves off it.
Strasbourg is different. Yet those old quotes above — and others like them, from past sessions discussing other wounds — should dismiss the irresponsible idea that he’s happy to collect his massive checks, whether he throws them again or not. . To be clear: He gets the money, because that’s how baseball contracts work. But he doesn’t do it with his feet up and a Mai Tai on the armrest of his beach chair. It drives him crazy.
Which just puts it in line with a fan base that has no idea what the future holds. The Nationals are confident their system includes players who will help them weather the seasons ahead. But the collective must wear them, because each individual case has no guarantees. Carter Kieboom and Victor Robles can serve as cautionary tales for, say, Cade Cavalli or Brady House. Proceed with caution about their long-term projections, just as it is prudent to proceed with caution about what Strasbourg might bring.
It’s a lot to take in. Stephen Strasburg is one of the main reasons the Nationals fly a World Series flag in the outfield at Nationals Park. But as 2022 plods along without him, it’s natural to wonder if the Nats’ upcoming seasons can be filled with hope. When he pitches, he is brilliant. For the 15th time in his career, he does not throw. It’s hard to see the light in a tunnel that seems to get longer week by week.