Stephen Strasburg is not sure he’ll ever pitch in the major leagues again.
The Nationals’ former ace detailed his career-threatening injuries, and subsequent rehab, that has limited him to just one start this season with the Washington Post.
“I feel like every time I’ve had an injury, I felt like I was going to be the best there is coming back,” Strasburg told the outlet. “ … This is the one that’s still definitely a big question mark. I realize the clock is ticking. It’s been almost three years since I’ve been able to pitch competitively, and it’s not like I’m getting younger.”
Now 34, Strasburg has not thrown in more than three months. He had a rib and two neck muscles removed in a surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition that notably derailed Matt Harvey’s career, in the summer of 2021. He returned to make one start in June this season, but quickly fell back on the injured list with a stress reaction in his ribs.
Injuries have plagued Strasburg’s once ultra-promising career. After helping lead the Nationals to the 2019 World Series title, recording an 18-6 record with a 3.32 ERA in the regular season and taking home World Series MVP honors — and subsequently signing a seven-year, $245 million contract extension — he has only made eight starts in three seasons.
Surgery for carpal tunnel neuritis preceded his surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome the summer prior in 2020, but Strasburg now believes the carpal tunnel surgery could have delayed the more serious diagnosis, he told the paper.
As far back as 2018, Strasburg said he experienced the first signs of thoracic outlet syndrome, including a lingering tightness in his neck. The team took smaller measures that seemed to initially work, like a Botox injection into his neck, that allowed him to perform at a high level in 2019.
The problems continued to linger in subsequent seasons, however. In 2021, after his carpal tunnel surgery, he experienced a stiff neck and sore shoulder, which ample cortisone shots didn’t seem to quell, per the report. He eventually shut it down after five starts, and underwent the thoracic outlet surgery.
“I’ve been doing very minimal exercises, and I’ve seen some improvements as far as the way my shoulder is sitting,” said Strasburg, who is at Nationals Park for every home game and coordinating with team medical staff when the club is on the road. “But I feel like the strength is not quite there, and I’m not really sure what the future holds.”
Strasburg has had multiple setbacks in the 14 months since that surgery, prompting his newfound doubts over his career. Most recently, he’s been dealing with a nerve issue with his upper brachial plexus, which he is unable to strengthen. All he can do is wait.
“All the way down my arm, it’s had some trauma,” Strasburg said. “You can only do so much. It’s not like you can train your nervous system to just work better.
“I wish I could. … There’s still a strong desire to figure out this puzzle.”