October 19, 2019

For the Nats and Strasburg, at what point is enough, enough?

STRASBURG LEAVES START WITH “UPPER BACK” INJURY; ANOTHER SHUTDOWN LOOMS?

I was going to start this column by listing all the members of the Washington Nationals 40-man roster who spent time on the disabled list this season. But I stopped for fear I wouldn’t have room to actually make my point after that.

We’ve already seen plenty of “What wrong with the Nationals” or “Most disappointing team in the majors” pieces being written about the club, but the simple fact remains: The organization was able to field its projected starting lineup twice this season — all season — and not until late August when they were already 5 1/2 game out in the division.

That’s not whining. It’s not excuse-making. It’s a reason. It’s the principal reason the Nationals have slogged through the summer, never being able to create any distance between themselves and the New York Mets. It was a division the Nats should have run off with, but because so many Nats spent such significant time on the D.L., then in recovery mode while trying to get back into “baseball shape,” it just didn’t happen.

They managed to hold things together a chunk of the summer with duct tape (Clint Robinson) and bailing wire (Dan Uggla), but eventually being forced to field a team with journeymen, past-their-primes and never-weres finally and ultimately caught up to them.

Then, once the regulars eventually came back, they were in no way prepared to actually play major league baseball and we saw the starters flounder for much of a month until they started to find their groove, probably too late to catch the Mets.

Remind me again, how long does Spring Training last?

This past week saw the Nats lose two of the more important players on the team yet again: Denard Span went back on the D.L. to have season ending — and career threatening — hip labrum surgery. It’s a shame his Nats career most likely ends with him on the D.L. He was an integral part of this team the past three seasons, and they were much better when he was at the top of the lineup and patrolling center field.

On Sunday, Stephen Strasburg’s velocity was diminished from season norms from the very first pitch, throwing 92-94 instead of 96. He gave up four runs in four innings — including two homers to unlikely power hitters — and was lifted. After the game, the team said it was an upper back problem, something that has already sent Strasburg to the D.L. The big righty said he didn’t think it was a big issue and he should make his next start, but I don’t think he got a medical degree at U of San Diego.

It’s too late for Span — he’s done for the season and likely out of town anyway. For Strasburg, it’s a different story. He’s still one of the most important players on the team, and the Nats simply can’t risk sending him out to pitch if he’s incapacitated in any way. It’s temping to look at the standings and say “all hands on deck,” but Strasburg’s long-term health should be first and foremost over a Quixotic pursuit of the division.

Five and a half games might not seem like a lot, but it’s very difficult in the last month of the season to make up a game a week. It’s not impossible, but it will take the Mets slumping, or the Nats reeling off a 13 out of 15 stretch — and maybe that wouldn’t be enough.

The organization hasd to proceed with extreme caution about sending Strasburg back into the fray against those long odds. But they’ve had experience with that before, haven’t they?

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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