Prized pitcher causing concern

The Nationals' Stephen Strasburg had to leave the game with one out in the fifth because of a forearm tendon strain.
The Nationals' Stephen Strasburg had to leave the game with one out in the fifth because of a forearm tendon strain.

In just his third start back from the disabled list, Stephen Strasburg had to leave with an arm injury.

Posted: August 22, 2010

Cameras flashed like fireflies throughout Citizens Bank Park on Saturday when the lanky righthander with the scruffy goatee looked for the sign from his catcher as he prepared to throw his first-ever pitch against the Phillies.

Typically, when the Washington Nationals come to town, there is little sense of anticipation. No need to bring cameras.

This was different.

Stephen Strasburg, the most talked-about rookie pitcher since perhaps Dwight Gooden, tested his sizzling fastball, paralyzing curve, and 90 m.p.h. change-up against the two-time defending National League champs for the first time, and many in the 102d consecutive sellout crowd wanted to see what all the fuss is about.

But the Stephen Strasburg show was aborted in the Nationals' 8-1 win.

With one out in the fifth inning and working on a two-hitter, Strasburg grimaced, shook his arm, and looked at his elbow after throwing Domonic Brown a change-up with the count 1-1. He looked toward the Nats' dugout, and in a blink he was surrounded by teammates as manager Jim Riggleman, pitching coach Steve McCatty, and head trainer Lee Kuntz flanked him as he left the game.

Afterward, Nats general manager Mike Rizzo said Strasburg had strained a flexor tendon in his forearm. The severity of the injury won't be known until Strasburg undergoes an MRI exam.

"He's going to get an MRI [Sunday] in D.C. and we'll have more information after that," Rizzo said. "We'll see what the MRI says and then answer all the questions."

Rizzo said there was no swelling.

As Strasburg headed toward the dugout, a chill had to run through the Nationals' front office. The first pick in the 2009 draft, Strasburg signed a four-year, $15.1 million deal, a record for a drafted player.

Understandably, he came with a Handle With Care warning on his gifted right arm, which is why Riggleman would have none of it when Strasburg appeared to lobby to remain in the game.

"He wanted to stay in the game," Riggleman said. "After the initial feeling he said he didn't feel anything and he wanted to keep pitching. Certainly with Stephen we're going to be careful, and we'll hope for the best and hopefully get good news."

Strasburg's start against the Phillies was his third since he came off the 15-day disabled list after suffering shoulder inflammation.

In his first start following the stint on the DL, Strasburg had his worst outing, allowing six runs and walking four in 41/3 innings against Florida. Then Strasburg eased some concerns about his shoulder with five strong innings in Monday's 5-3 win over Arizona. He struck out seven and allowed one earned run.

Before Saturday's game, Riggleman said the plan was for Strasburg to pitch deep into the game.

"We'll see if the Phillies let him go deep," Riggleman said. "But if everything's all right, he'll throw about 100 pitches."

It turned out Strasburg threw only 56 pitches. He didn't get in the five innings required for the win, but his talent was undeniable.

The first batter the 22-year-old faced, Jimmy Rollins, walked back to the dugout shaking his head after a nasty curveball froze him for a third strike. Strasburg did the same to Shane Victorino to end the fourth. He also struck out Raul Ibanez with a change-up clocked at 91 m.p.h., the velocity of many pitchers' fastballs.

Overall, Strasburg struck out six. Ryan Howard singled off him in the second and Placido Polanco banged a double off the wall in left-center in the fourth.

It was the 12th start of Strasburg's young career, and the Phillies tried to counter him with seven lefthanders in the lineup, including Howard and Chase Utley, who were in the lineup together for the first time since June 28.


Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com.

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