Wednesday, July 28, 2010 8:05pm
By Mark Zuckerman
Though his stiff right shoulder felt better one day after getting scratched from his highly anticipated start against the Atlanta Braves, Stephen Strasburg appears unlikely to be ready to return to the mound this weekend against the Philadelphia Phillies.
In order for the Washington Nationals rookie ace to pitch on his normal schedule Sunday afternoon, he would need to throw off a bullpen mound at full velocity no later than Friday. The Nationals, though, said Strasburg will be shut down for the next couple of days, giving him a very narrow window to make it back this weekend.
A rush job to get Strasburg back on the mound also would be in stark contrast to the cautious approach theyve taken with the 22-year-old right-hander since the day he was drafted last summer.
Asked if hed be surprised if Strasburg starts Sunday, manager Jim Riggleman replied: I dont want to say Ill be surprised, because then if I pitch him Sunday, it contradicts itself. But as you said, weve been cautious, and well continue to be cautious.
Strasburg, who was scratched about 15 minutes before the start of Tuesday nights game after informing pitching coach Steve McCatty his shoulder felt tight, was back in uniform Wednesday afternoon and was on the field during batting practice. He didnt participate at all, though; he merely stood in right field talking to coaches and teammates, never fielding or throwing a ball.
That said, Strasburg sounded optimistic during a brief session with reporters.
I feel a lot better, he said. My range of motion, after going and doing some stretching and everything, its starting to come back to me. Made big strides today. Im not going to jump the gun, just going to take it day-by-day and hopefully go out there, meet with the trainer tomorrow and get better.
Strasburg did admit his shoulder first started feeling tight a couple days ago and thus before his warm-up session Tuesday night. An X-ray and MRI revealed no structural damage to the labrum or rotator cuff, and team doctors diagnosed him only with shoulder inflammation. Hes taking anti-inflammatory medication and receiving treatment.
The rookie pitcher, who in nine big-league starts is 5-2 with a 2.32 ERA, almost sounds comforted to be going through this experience, describing it as an important hurdle to leap in his development as a professional ballplayer.
Its a good learning process for me, he said. It really is a blessing in disguise, because I know what this feels like to get to the 100-game point, getting right up to this many innings. And I know how to prepare for it now, and next year, God willing, this wont happen again and well be in playoff contention.
If Strasburg is unable to return to the mound this weekend, the Nationals will have to decide what step to take next. They could choose to bump him back a few more days and have him pitch next week at Arizona or Los Angeles, or they could shut him down completely, place him on the disabled list and have him slowly work his way back in an attempt to rejoin the rotation in late-August or September.
I think theres a scenario where if hes throwing a couple bullpen sessions, Riggleman said, keeps his arm going and stuff like that ... I think theres a way we could keep him fresh and ready to go without extending the time down where he faces major-league hitters.
Mark Zuckerman covered the Nationals for The Washington Times from 2005-09. In addition to regular work this season for CSNwashington.com, he also covers the team at www.natsinsider.com. Email Mark at email@example.com.