As the Nationals await MRI results for Stephen Strasburg, general manager Mike Rizzo rated his level of concern — on a scale of 1 to 10 — as a 7.5.
Strasburg was pulled from his latest start Tuesday night against the Braves after an inning and a third, having faced only seven batters, with what Nationals manager Dave Martinez later identified as a right trap muscle that tightened up on Strasburg.
Appearing on The Sports Junkies Wednesday morning, Rizzo was asked how he'd rate his concern level for Strasburg's MRI results.
"Um, I love these rating questions," Rizzo said on 106.7 The Fan. "Let me see. I'm gonna go 7.5 on the concern level, just because I want to make sure I see the MRI and then I'll have more answers for everything."
Strasburg was making his third start since coming off the Injured List on May 21, which had kept him sidelined for more than a month with right shoulder inflammation. On Tuesday night, Strasburg's velocity was noticeably down out of the gate, with his first fastball of the game registering at 88.9 miles per hour to Freddie Freeman.
Strasburg eventually had to be talked off the mound by Martinez, two batters into the bottom of the second inning.
Asked how concerned fans should be, Rizzo replied, "Every time you walk off the mound after an inning, we have some concern. We've got to get this thing right. It's the second time with this neck/trap type of area, so we've got to figure out what's going on there and get him right and get him back on the mound."
"Big part of our rotation, obviously, and we need to get him right," Rizzo continued. "When he's on the mound, he's as good as anybody, so we've just got to get him on the mound and get him on the mound healthy and keep him out there consistently. He's gonna get an MRI, we'll see what that shows and we'll take it from there."
"We've been down this road before, so we will handle it," he said. "The bullpen stepped up last night in a really difficult situation and pitched seven and two-thirds innings, and the offense came alive and we got the win and beat a good Braves team. So that's what we're focused on, getting Stras healthy and continuing to win some games."
Rizzo was asked if the MRI will specifically be focused on the trapezius muscle, or if the elbow or shoulder areas — which are generally of more concern for pitchers — will be targeted by the MRI as well.
"No, we don't think it's elbow or shoulder related at all at this point," Rizzo said. "It's the area up by his trapeze muscle and up by his neck, so that's what's giving him trouble the last couple of times he's gone on the DL."
"He felt fine in warmups," Rizzo said. "He didn't have a great pregame bullpen, but that's not uncommon for starters, and oftentimes you go out and throw a nice game. I think he said he threw the ball fine, no pain, and he was preparing to pitch the first inning. But you saw something went with that Acuña at-bat right away, at least I did, and you knew something was off a tick."
The Nationals had an injury delay, taking a mound visit with Strasburg after he walked Ronald Acuña to lead off the bottom of the first. He would gather himself and face another four batters to finish the inning. When he returned to the mound in the bottom of the second, the muscle tightened up on him again two batters in.
"Often times with Stras it's fundamentals and his mechanics, it's mechanically driven when he comes out of his chute and doesn't throw well," Rizzo said. "But this one had a little bit different flavor to it. It was mechanically and you could see that there's something not right with him."
Rizzo was asked if Strasburg insisted on staying in the game or if he told Martinez he could no longer push through the pain.
"No, he wanted to stay in the game," Rizzo said. "But when your mechanics break down and there's a point of your body that you're trying to... you guys have all gone through it. It's when something doesn't feel right and you alter your mechanics to do something different, you often hurt something else. And Davey wasn't going to take that risk about letting him pitch through something that was uncomfortable for him.
"And not only hurt the area that's not feeling well more; when mechanics break down, that's when you hurt the elbow or the shoulder, something like that, because you're trying to tweak your mechanics to pitch through this uncomfortable situation, and that's when some major injuries happen."
"So he wasn't about to do that, and I thought it was certainly the right decision," he said. "We brought in [Austin] Voth, who came in and really, really saved us with some good innings there."
"We will see what the Strasburg news brings us," Rizzo went on to say, "and we'll see where [Erick] Fedde's at when he comes off the DL and get his rehab start in, and we'll make a decision on him. So we're fortunate to have pitching depth with guys that have experience and have succeeded at the big-league level."
"I think when you said 7.5, that was a little higher than I thought you might say, Mike," Junkies host Eric Bickel observed toward the end of the interview. "And I appreciate the candidness."
"It's a C-plus," Rizzo said. "It's like a C-plus, right?"