Going into the 2017 MLB season, the Washington Nationals are reloaded and ready to make some noise in October. A big part of that confidence is due to the two headed monster they possess in their starting rotation. That monster is composed of righties Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. On one hand, Scherzer is a two time CY Young winner. He’s achieved that feat thanks to his dominant, near unhittable stuff. In 2016, Scherzer led all of baseball with 284 strikeouts. On the other hand, much like Scherzer, Strasburg is a dominant arm. He can strike guys out, and has a nasty curveball, but Strasburg has been plagued by injuries in the past. His ability to remain healthy in 2017 will also make or break the Washington Nationals World Series aspirations.
Stephen Strasburg‘s Health Will Make Or Break The Washington Nationals
2016 Ended Too Soon For Strasburg
Last year, Strasburg pitched at an All-Star level. In the first half of the year, he was lights out, and nearly unbeatable. Winning his first 13 decisions of the year, Strasburg was beginning to break out and become the star arm the Nationals had always hoped he’d become. He recorded a 2.51 ERA in the time frame, only adding to his elite stat line. He was also selected to pitch in the MLB All-Star game; however, tragedy struck Strasburg mid-season.
After four months of dominance, Strasburg began to get hit hard in August. In three straight starts, he surrendered a combined 19 runs in just 11 and two thirds innings pitched. It appeared as if something was up, as he wasn’t throwing like his dominant self.
Then news broke that Strasburg was dealing with elbow discomfort.
It was the news the Nationals had always feared with Strasburg – the status of his elbow. Throughout the duration of his career, Strasburg has been a victim of elbow discomfort, and injuries in general.
Strasburg’s Injury History
When he came on the scene in 2010, Strasburg was electric. He hit 100+ mph on the radar. His ability to generate that much velocity on his fastball made him unique. That same ability though led to a season ending elbow injury.
After just 12 starts in the big leagues, Strasburg began to feel elbow discomfort in the sixth inning of a game versus the Philadelphia Phillies. It then came out that he would need to undergo Tommy John surgery. A major setback for him to say the least. However, Strasburg returned and pitched well just a year later.
Strasburg returned to the mound in late 2011, where he pitched well. In five starts, he recorded a 1.50 ERA. It was encouraging to see him pitch well, granted it was a short period of time. That short term success led to a successful future though.
For the next few years, Strasburg picked up the pace, becoming the ace of the Nationals, and remaining healthy in the process.
Injuries came back to haunt him in 2015 though. This time it was his back.
In the first half of the 2015 season, Strasburg was practically batting practice. Going into the month of July, Strasburg had an abysmal ERA of of 5.16, and his ERA even reached 6.55 in late May. In a July start versus the San Francisco Giants, Strasburg exited early with back discomfort. It then came out that his back woes were serious. As a result, he was placed on the disabled list, and remained off the field for about a month. When he came back though, he was a force to be reckoned with.
Giving up just 14 runs in his last 10 starts, Strasburg was a dominant force, but it was too little too late for the Nationals.
By the time Strasburg came back from injury, the Nationals had lost ground in the NL East, as the New York Mets surpassed them in the standings. Strasburg’s efforts were long term positives, but they weren’t enough to lift the Nationals past the rival Mets.
Injuries hurt Strasburg’s 2015 season, as well as his 2016 campaign. That fact brings about reasonable doubt as to whether he’ll remain healthy in 2017. His ability to do so is crucial for a couple of key reasons.
The Mets And Strasburg’s Contract Are Important Factors To Keep In Mind
While the Nationals did take back the NL East in 2016, the New York Mets will be healthy and ready to shoot in 2017. With their young and growing starting rotation of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and lefty Steven Matz all healthy, the Mets will be ready to give the Nationals a run for their money. As a result, the Nationals rotation, and Strasburg in particular, will have to remain healthy to help the Nationals keep pace with the Mets. Another thing to keep in mind with Strasburg is his new contract.
Back in April of last season, Strasburg became a very rich man. The righty agreed to a seven-year 175 million dollar extension to remain in the nation’s capital. Such a deal is a more than hefty and risky investment for the Nationals, as injuries have played a negative factor in Strasburg’s career. With year one of that deal beginning this year, Nationals’ management is banking heavily on Strasburg remaining healthy in 2017 so he can pitch to his full potential, but more importantly, prove to be a worthy investment. It’ll be make or break for the Nationals both on and off the field.
Stephen Strasburg’s durability will be critical to any success the Washington Nationals have in 2017.