August 22, 2016
Sports Insider Weekly
As the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles gear up for a late season Beltway Series, the Nats will be without one major weapon–Stephen Strasburg.
On Monday the team announced the 28-year old pitcher had been placed on the 15-day disabled list with elbow soreness. The announcement came just hours before Strasburg was to take the mound in the series opener at Camden Yards. The Nationals recalled A.J. Cole from Class AAA Syracuse to start in his place.
It will be Cole’s second career start. After struggling in his first outing in April 2015, he has made a handful of appearances out of the bullpen since, though most of his career thus far has been with the Syracuse team.
“I told him he hadn’t won anything yet,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “But we gotta look at the big picture on this. He’s going to be around for a long time, and hopefully he’ll be good in September and hopefully October.”
Though not ideal, the announcement comes during a time when the Nationals have some breathing room. At 8 1/2 games ahead of the Marlins, they have a comfortable lead heading into the final month of the season. The Orioles, meanwhile, are third in their division and hoping to nab a wild card spot. But after losing five of their last six, they cannot afford to play poorly during their four-game match-up with the Nats.
The DL move may help explain the pitcher’s recent performance. Just over a month ago, Strasburg was considered a Cy Young Award front-runner with a 13-0 record and 2.51 ERA. But in his last few outings he has been uncharacteristically terrible. In his last three starts he allowed 19 runs over 11 2/3 innings for a combined 14.66 ERA. That’s more runs than he allowed in all of his outings in June and July combined.
Strasburg’s recent decline, along with his latest stint on the DL (the eighth of his six-year career) is obviously a cause for concern among Nationals fan. Especially since it comes just three months after signing a seven-year, $175 million contract extension. The pitcher famously underwent Tommy John surgery in his rookie season (2010) and only pitched five games in 2011. Since then, he has been dominant, with a 69-41 record and 1,080 strikeouts.
But his most recent outing–on August 17th against the Rockies–was the worst of his career. Colorado had nine runs off of Strasburg, vs. just five outs. But prior to the DL announcement, the coaching staff would not blame his performance on an injury.
“I don’t usually talk about health,” Nationals pitching coach Mike Maddux said over the weekend. “But he’s fine.”
By Monday, they were singing a different tune. But the Nationals are still adamant Strasburg’s injury isn’t anything serious and his trip to the disabled list is simply precautionary.
“We felt like the prudent thing to do – like we always have with our pitchers – was to give him this reset,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “We’re going to put him on the DL rather than pitch through some routine inflammation and soreness.”
The hope is that this time off will help him heal so he can come back healthier, and stronger, for the postseason.
“He wants to pitch, and he knows how badly we need him,” Baker said. “But like I explained to him, ‘It’s not hero time yet.”