Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg returns to the mound tonight against the Marlins.
Wait, haven't we seen this before?
Yes, exactly two weeks removed from his aborted warm-up session, Strasburg will be right back in the same spot tonight. On July 27, with the Braves waiting in the other dugout, few among the sellout crowd noticed when the rookie right-hander snuck out of the bullpen and was replaced by Miss Iowa...er, Miguel Batista about 15 minutes before first pitch. Tonight, all eyes will be on Strasburg throughout his pregame routine, no one resting easy until he actually takes the mound and throws his first pitch to Marlins leadoff hitter Hanley Ramirez.
(Oh, if you hadn't heard, tickets are still available. The Nationals wanted to make sure you were aware of that.)
It's probably going to be like this the remainder of Strasburg's rookie season. Two weeks ago, we took for granted that he'd actually pitch when listed as the Nats' starting pitcher. But then the dreaded words "shoulder tightness" became part of the local lexicon, and now his every move and every throw are closely monitored (even more ridiculously than they were before he landed on the DL).
By all accounts, there's really nothing to worry about here. Strasburg experienced something that happens to just about every pitcher in his first professional season: Arm fatigue. It's not at all uncommon for a young hurler who has never been through the rigors of a full pro season to deal with this type of thing at this stage of the summer. We just never pay attention when it happens to anyone else, because that pitcher is most likely in Vermont or Hagerstown when it happens, not Washington.
This was one of the risks in moving Strasburg so quickly through the minor leagues. Obviously, he was talented enough to do it. And the Nationals would have been blasted from every corner of the baseball world if they kept him in the minors throughout 2010. They didn't do anything wrong. We just should have understood this was a possibility somewhere along the way. Maybe even a probability.
Point is, Strasburg's shoulder has been fine since two days after his aborted start. He's played catch several times since then. He's thrown off a bullpen mound twice. He's faced live hitters once. No problems reported in any of those sessions.
Will there be some trepidation as he throws that first pitch to Ramirez tonight? Absolutely. But once that moment passes and Strasburg immerses himself in the game, the crowd will likely breathe a sigh of relief as well and just sit back and enjoy the experience.
By the end of the night, perhaps we'll be more concerned with how Strasburg handled his first career rematch than with how his shoulder feels.