Strasburg out with strained oblique
Updated at 12:03 a.m.
ATLANTA — Stephen Strasburg is heading back to Washington to have a strained right oblique muscle examined by team doctors, leaving the Nationals to contemplate placing their ace on the disabled list.
Strasburg was forced to depart Friday night's game against the Braves after only two innings, with lingering tightness in his right lower side, below the ribcage. The right-hander said he had experienced a similar sensation in several previous starts, though it progressively got worse during this abbreviated outing.
"The last few starts, I'd feel it warming up [but] I'd go out there and I wouldn't feel anything," he said. "Tonight, it was more kind of like the reverse. I felt really good in the bullpen. I threw a couple pitches in there, and it started to tighten up. I felt it more and more. Nothing I could do about it. I'm kind of frustrated. You want to give at least seven, eight innings a start."
Strasburg's velocity and results didn't appear to suffer from the injury. His fastball reached 98 mph during the second inning, he threw 23 of 37 pitches for strikes and he allowed only one run on two hits. But Kurt Suzuki could tell something wasn't right when Strasburg was having trouble finishing his pitches and then had to stretch his back after each throw, unable to immediately receive the ball back from his catcher.
"He was wiggling," Suzuki said. "I had to double-pump, like, every pitch because I couldn't throw the ball back to him. So you knew something was physically wrong with him."
Following the second inning, Strasburg had a long talk in the Nationals dugout with manager Davey Johnson, pitching coach Steve McCatty and head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz, who decided not to take any chances and send him back to the mound for another inning.
"He wanted to continue," Johnson said. "He was wincing and in a whole lot of pain. I was not so much worried about his back as I was worried about his arm. Anytime you have something like that, you worry about putting more stress on your arm."
Strasburg tried to convince everyone he could continue but understood the decision.
"Honestly, I could have gone out there and kept pitching," he said. "My command wasn't there, but I think I definitely could have pitched through it. But, you know, Davey didn't want to take the chance. You've just got to be proactive about it, get the treatment. Hopefully, I should be able to make the next start."
Strasburg is scheduled to start again Thursday against the Mets in Washington, though with an off-day following this weekend series in Atlanta the Nationals could bring Gio Gonzalez and Nate Karns on regular rest and push Strasburg's next turn back to June 8 against the Twins.
Whether he's ready to return in eight days remains to be seen. The Nationals have always been extra protective of Strasburg, and after watching teammate Ross Detwiler struggle to return from a similar oblique strain, they may err on the side of caution in this case. For now, Strasburg is scheduled to return to Washington, where he'll be examined by team medical director Wiemi Douoguih before any decisions are made.
"Obviously, there's something strained in there, because he was experiencing some pain when he was throwing," Johnson said. "Let's just hope it's correctable."
Strasburg has had plenty of problems in Atlanta before. He departed a start last summer due to severe dehydration on a 106-degree afternoon and had to be put on an IV in the clubhouse. He also dealt with what Johnson called "forearm tightness" during his previous start here April 29, though he insisted all along nothing was wrong and he made his next scheduled start.
In five career starts at Turner Field, Strasburg now owns a 5.24 ERA, averaging only slightly more than four innings per appearance.