“He’s our guy,” Martinez said of Strasburg, who was cleared to start after feeling good in a bullpen session Monday. “Everybody knows that. So it’ll be a little uplifting for the guys, knowing that he’s pitching on Thursday.”
Strasburg, 33, has pitched just 26⅔ innings since signing a seven-year, $245 million contract in December 2019. To lend that number a bit more context, he threw 36⅓ innings during the 2019 title run en route to being named World Series MVP. But with each injury and procedure, the Nationals have stayed patient, saying they would rather have Strasburg for the long term than rush him back.
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Martinez said in March that he hoped Strasburg would make between 20 and 25 starts this season. Strasburg’s anticipated return Thursday sets him up for about 20, should he stay healthy for the rest of the year. And while that remains a big if, an on-schedule arrival — or at least a relatively on-schedule arrival — will be a bright spot in what has mostly been a dreadful season for Washington.
Washington enters Tuesday’s series opener with a 21-35 record and in last place in the National League East. The rotation for this series will be Joan Adon, Josiah Gray and Strasburg.
“I’m not going to put any limitation on it. We’ll see how far we can take him,” Martinez said. “We’ll keep a close eye on him. But this is one of the reasons why we wanted him to go through what he did to make sure that he’s fully ready. … My biggest thing is watching his high-leverage [pitches]see what he’s going through, see how many pitches he throws each inning, and then we’ll go from there.”
Before meeting the Nationals in Cincinnati this past weekend, Strasburg found a groove with Class AAA Rochester. In his third rehab appearance (and first with Rochester), the righty yielded one hit and one walk and struck out four in six innings. His fastball sat in the low 90s and hit 93 mph, according to reports. Most important, though, was that Strasburg completed six innings without pain in his shoulder or neck.
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If Washington wanted to keep Strasburg on a standard schedule—four days of rest, pitch on the fifth—he would have faced the Marlins on Wednesday. But even before the week began, Martinez announced Adon and Gray as his Tuesday and Wednesday starters, leaving Thursday as a loud TBD before confirming Tuesday it would be Strasburg. That means Evan Lee, a lefty who debuted against the New York Mets on June 1, will stick around as a long man in the bullpen.
Almost any version of Strasburg will be an upgrade for a staff that ranks last in the majors in starter ERA (5.88). Rough years for Patrick Corbin, Adon and Aaron Sanchez, whom the Nationals cut last month and who was signed to a minor league contract by the Minnesota Twins on Monday, have juiced stats in the wrong direction. The Nationals will soon see whether Strasburg can help bring them down. Martinez still feels making 20 to 25 starts is in range.
“Very possible — it really is,” he said. “… We’re going to take this still very slow. Thursday’s his first date. I don’t want to look ahead more than that.”
Andrew Golden in Miami contributed to this report, which has been updated.