Stephen Strasburg played catch when the Washington Nationals held their first official workout of spring training on Sunday, and the 2019 World Series MVP sat down for a chat with manager Dave Martinez and pitching coach Jim Hickey to discuss where things stand as he comes back from two consecutive seasons lost to injury and surgery.
The good news, according to Martinez and general manager Mike Rizzo, is Strasburg is no longer rehabilitating from an operation in late July to address neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome, a circulatory issue that the GM said is « no longer with us. »
And so, Martinez said, the three-time All-Star right-hander is scheduled to throw a live bullpen session Tuesday.
« I’m looking forward to watching that, and then we’ll go from there, » Martinez said during a videoconference with reporters from the team’s spring training complex in West Palm Beach, Florida. « For him to say that he feels good enough to actually throw to live hitters, that’s a good sign. »
However, another player expected to be part of the rotation, Joe Ross, needed a procedure to clean up a bone spur on his pitching elbow last Monday.
As it is, Ross was coming back from a partially torn elbow ligament that landed him on the injured list in August, and Rizzo said the new issue is going to push back his return about six to eight weeks.
« We’re going to have to rely on our depth a little bit more now, » Rizzo said. « And hopefully, when Joe is ready, he can be a part of that depth and help us out more towards the back end of the beginning of the season. »
After watching Strasburg toss a ball on flat ground Sunday, Martinez said: « Looks like he’s a little bit looser. The fluidity was a lot better. »
The Nationals are coming off two consecutive last-place seasons, and Strasburg — who would be the ace of a starting staff that lost Max Scherzer — has made a total of seven starts and pitched a total of 26⅔ innings in 2020 and 2021.
Washington’s first spring training game is Friday; the regular-season opener is April 7 at home against the New York Mets — and, potentially, Scherzer.
By then, Washington might have an established closer in the bullpen, but clearly not yet. Martinez said he does not want to give anyone the closer’s job this early. And if it gets that far for Rizzo, there are plenty of established closers on the free-agent market.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.