An all too familiar sight will occur at Nationals Park on Thursday, as Washington is set to begin the 2022 MLB Season with one of its best players not with the club.
Pitcher Stephen Strasburg has remained in Florida while the rest of the squad has traveled north. The right-hander continues to recover from thoracic outlet surgery -- a procedure he underwent after just five starts and two separate IL stints in 2021.
However, while Strasburg won't be part of the Nationals' Opening Day roster, general Mike Rizzo believes there's a chance the 33-year-old returns to the rotation by May 1.
"I think that's a possibility," Rizzo said on the Sports Junkies.
Although Rizzo remains optimistic that Strasburg will be able to return to the mound sooner than later, he quickly added that he doesn't want to put a specific timetable on the 2019 World Series MVP's return to the mound.
Rizzo said that Strasburg arrived in Florida for the lockout-condensed spring training in "prepared to pitch mode," but the Nationals had to slow him down because he was ramping up too quickly in a short amount of time.
In a year where the organization is expected to prioritize player development over wins, Rizzo and the Nationals should be in no rush to have Strasburg take the mound until he's fully healthy to do so.
"We're going to run him out there when we think he's ready," Rizzo said. "And health-wise, he feels good, which is the most important thing."
Over the past two seasons, Strasburg has been limited to just 26 2/3 innings in seven starts. He's undergone two surgeries since the start of the 2020 season. The last thing the Nationals want to do is have their ace return too early -- especially if he's unable to throw deep into games.
"Now, it's getting prepared to pitch by getting stretched out, working on your stuff and building up those innings so when we do get him here, he can start off at that 105 or so pitch limit right away," Rizzo said.
Down in Florida, Strasburg has been working directly with Nationals pitching coaches and analysts to get his arm stretched out for the season. In fact, the right-hander has even tweaked his delivery some in order to alleviate some of the pressure on his throwing arm.
"We've done a good job with the pitching coaches and pitching analysts to tweak his delivery and to get him in a comfortable delivery mode where it takes pressure off his arm," Rizzo said. "He's feeling good about it."
Mechanics have often been a topic of conversation surrounding Strasburg for the entirety of his career. He came into the Majors throwing 100 miles per hour but underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of his first Big League season. He's taken many trips to the Injured List over the course of his career and has started 30-plus games just three times in 12 years.
Yet, Rizzo remains confident that Strasburg -- who's signed through 2026 -- can be a part of the present and future success of the Nationals once he returns.
"I'm excited about him when we get him back on the mound pitching," Rizzo said. "He's going to be a real asset for us when he gets here."