Strasburg, Nationals not pushing for a fast return as he recovers

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Washington Nationals are willing to wait for whatever Stephen Strasburg can deliver this season.

That’s the approach Dave Martinez is taking with the former World Series MVP, who is recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery and has pitched a total of only 26 2-3 innings in the last two years.

So if that means Strasburg’s regular-season debut is delayed by a month and his output is only about half of a normal full season starter, so be it.

“We’re not going to get 175 innings,” Martinez said Thursday. “Whatever we get out of him is going to be good. That’s the way I’m looking at it. So if it’s 100 innings, hopefully we get the best 100 innings that we could possibly get from him.”

A three-time All-Star, the 33-year-old Strasburg has been severely limited since helping pitch the Nationals to their first championship in 2019.

Martinez is hoping that the Nationals will be able to get 20-25 starts from Strasburg, a total that likely wouldn’t have him pitching in a major league game until May at the earliest.

He has faith that once Strasburg does make his season debut, the right-hander can remain healthy and productive for the remainder of the season.

“What makes you really good is you overcome it and when you’re healthy, you’re the best,” Martinez said he told Strasburg. “I’ve always said that, and he proved it in 2019 with what he did. He was the best.”

The thoracic outlet syndrome surgery marked another in an increasingly long list of health setbacks for Strasburg that include elbow reconstruction surgery, an ankle sprain and oblique strain and carpal tunnel surgery.

“It kills him,” Martinez said. “He wants to be out there. He wants to compete. I know that because when I sit with him, when we have conversations, he wishing that none of this would ever happen – that he could go out and be healthy all the time.”

Strasburg pitched an NL-high 209 innings in 2019 and then went 5-0 in five starts and a relief appearance in the postseason.

Washington isn’t pushing Strasburg’s workload this spring.

On March 15, Strasburg threw a 25-pitch live bullpen session. Afterward, he said he wouldn’t let the MLB schedule dictate his build-up for the season. He intended to progress at his own, deliberate pace during a spring training compressed by the lockout.

On Wednesday, Strasburg threw off flat ground before partaking in a bullpen mound drill where, instead of throwing a ball, he went through his mechanics while mock-throwing a towel.

While Strasburg won’t be ready for opening day, Martinez is holding out hope that the 12-year veteran could appear in a Grapefruit League game before the Nationals depart for their April 7 regular season opener against the New York Mets.

“I haven’t ruled him out,” Martinez said.

As Strasburg continues to build arm strength, he’s also filling some of the leadership void created when the Nationals traded Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers last season.

Martinez credits Strasburg with aiding the development of Josiah Gray, one of the players Washington received in that Scherzer trade.

“He’s talked a lot to Josiah Gray about pitching, which is kind of nice,” Martinez said. “Every now and then I see some other guys picking his brain. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a starter. It could be a reliever, too.”