Over the past two-plus seasons, Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg has taken the mound just eight times. Strasburg's inability to stay healthy has been frustrating for Nationals fans, especially considering the 33-year-old signed a massive seven-year, $245 million contract following the 2019 season.
Recently retired longtime Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman understands the fan's frustration. Like them, he, too, wants to see Strasburg on the mound. Yet, during an appearance on the Sports Junkies on Thursday, Zimmerman was quick to show support for his former teammate and how much he's meant to the organization's overall success.
“We wouldn’t have a World Series without [Strasburg]," Zimmerman said. "Full stop.”
Zimmerman isn't wrong. Strasburg was exceptional during the Nationals' playoff run in 2019. Over that month-long stretch, Strasburg was nearly unhittable. His final postseason stat line was as follows: six appearances (five starts), 36.1 innings, 1.98 ERA, 47 strikeouts and just four walks. Strasburg's efforts earned him World Series MVP honors as well.
Yet, as good as Strasburg was during the 2019 postseason, his inability to stay healthy has played a major role in Washington's lack of success since.
During the pandemic-shortened season in 2020, Strasburg began the season on the Injured List. When he returned, he made just two starts before a nerve issue in his throwing hand prematurely ended his season. Then in 2021, Strasburg took the mound just five times before undergoing surgery to alleviate neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome in his neck.
Strasburg spent the first two months of the 2022 season on the IL before making his season debut last week against Miami. The 33-year-old lasted just 4.2 innings before being pulled. Two days later during his bullpen session, Strasburg felt discomfort in his ribs and was, once again, placed on the Injured List.
"There’s no timeline right now for Stephen," Nationals manager Davey Martinez said Tuesday. "He’s gonna go see another specialist and then we’ll know more.”
Frustration from fans has been evident from fans once again following the news of Strasburg returning to the IL. Zimmerman understands where they're coming from, too.
However, Zimmerman had to stick up for his former teammate once again, preaching just how much Strasburg does want to play.
"I just hope people know how much he wants to play," Zimmerman said. "I just hope people don’t think these are things like ‘he’s collecting his money, he should pitch through it.’ I know Stephen, and that would be my one thing I’d want everyone to know. He is not that guy. There’s nobody that wants to pitch more than him."
Zimmerman added that he's seen Strasburg pitch through multiple injuries in the past, even some injuries that "people don't know about." Zimmerman has confidence that Strasburg will return to the mound, too, due to the pitcher's work ethic and pride.
Back in 2012, Zimmerman signed his own long-term extension with the Nationals. He understands the pressure that comes with a lucrative, multi-year deal.
"Nobody wants to play more when they have a big contract than the player," Zimmerman said. "Stras is no different than that. He is probably the farthest from that guy you would ever be.”
Injuries have followed Strasburg throughout the bulk of his career. But when he is on the mound, the right-hander has routinely proven to be one of the best starters in baseball.
So, as Strasburg is set to miss time once again, Zimmerman wants fans to all remember just how dominant the 2019 World Series MVP is at full health.
“I know he’s been hurt a lot. A lot of people have been hurt a lot. But when he has pitched, he’s lived up to the hype and more than when he was brought into the league," Zimmerman said. "Honestly, if you were to have told me that when he first got called up, I don’t know if I would have taken that bet. If you look at his numbers when he pitches – and I know half the battle is pitching, so I’m not discounting that – but that guy has been crazy good for us when he’s pitched."