How Stephen Strasburg's 2018 injury could help inform his timeline for return


It's been two weeks since Stephen Strasburg made his second trip of the season to the Injured List. While he's officially listed as having a "neck strain," Strasburg is in fact going through the same nerve injury as he did three years ago, general manager Mike Rizzo says.

"It's the same thing he had in 2018 where he had the nerve from his neck — that goes down to his shoulder and arm — was irritated," Rizzo told The Sports Junkies on Wednesday. "He has seen Dr. [Neal] ElAttrache out in L.A. to get a diagnosis. We've got that. We're sending him to a specialist in Dallas."

"So he's in the midst of... we're getting information gathering, trying to figure out how to stop this thing so it doesn't keep reoccurring," he said. "But the good thing is it's not shoulder, it's not elbow. It's none of the fragile parts in a pitcher's arm. So once we figure out this thing, a lot like 2018, we'll get him back once he gets built up and starts pitching again. So that's the update on him."

Rizzo's update could actually be quite informative.

In fact, Strasburg's recent injuries and corresponding trips to the Injured List are playing out with almost the exact same timing as before. In June 2018, Strasburg hit the DL with "right shoulder inflammation" and returned approx. one month later, for five days, before heading back to the DL with a "cervical nerve impingement."

Now three years later, Strasburg's first trip to the IL began in April with "right shoulder inflammation," he returned approx. one month later, for 12 days, and then returned to the IL with a "neck strain" on Wednesday, June 2 after facing only seven batters the night before.

Just as he has this time around, Strasburg also sought the medical opinion of Dr. ElAttrache in 2018. If the Nationals are indeed following the same blueprint as they did three years ago — and it certainly appears that they are — then with the same outcome, Nats fans could optimistically expect Strasburg's return as soon as two weeks from now.

That's certainly no official time frame, of course, just a general outline based on his last time dealing with the same injury.

Last time around, Strasburg's second DL stint began on July 25 (retroactive to July 22) and he was activated once again on Aug. 22. He wouldn't miss another start for the remainder of the 2018 season, but the Nationals fell well short of the playoffs.

"But when you have a nerve thing like you do with Stras," said Junkies host Eric Bickel, getting at that same point, "I mean nobody knows how nerve irritation will rectify itself, right?"

"Well, you know, we have kind of a snapshot sample of what happened in 2018, so we're going off of that," Rizzo said. "And with the specialists' recommendations, we feel that we'll get this thing figured out to where he can get back and perform at the elite level he's used to."

As for Max Scherzer, who was placed on the IL this week (retroactive to Saturday, June 12) after exiting his latest start last Friday with groin inflammation, Rizzo said, "Max, much simpler. He tweaked his groin."

"He felt that he could possibly pitch through it," he said. "We felt that, since it's only June, we don't need him to pitch through it and gut through it and maybe hurt himself further, so we put him on the 10-day DL. We're hoping after the 10 days he's ready to pitch. His arm will still be in good shape because he still can throw, and hopefully the groin settles down and he can start for us right after his 10 days are up."

Based on that timeline, the earliest Scherzer could return is Wednesday, June 23, as the Nationals are wrapping up a two-game series in Philadelphia. The next day, they travel to Miami for a four-game series against the Marlins.

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