In what seems at first like frightening news, the Washington Nationals have placed Stephen Strasburg on the disabled list this afternoon with a sore elbow. In his last outing, the worst start of his career, Strasburg lasted just 1.2 innings against the Colorado Rockies on August 17, and allowed nine runs. Former top prospect A.J. Cole has been recalled from Syracuse to make Strasburg’s start tonight in Baltimore.
Of course, any injury to Strasburg’s valuable right elbow is a cause for concern. However, his velocity was perfectly normal in that gruesome last start (which took place at Coors Field, so grain of salt), and the Nationals’ ace said he felt fine. And the Nats have been clear that this is not a “structural injury” to the righty, which might require additional rest or even surgery. In late June, Strasburg also spent time on the DL, but with a back problem that sidelined him for two weeks.
Strasburg has been incredibly effective this year, striking out more than 30 percent of the batters he faces, and effectively limiting walks and homers at a league average rate. While his 3.59 ERA is only comfortably above average, his 2.98 FIP and 4/1 K/BB ratio are both in the top ten in the National League, while he leads the league with 15 wins.
He signed a seven-year, $175 million extension in May, so taking the cautious approach is definitely the right path here. Assuming the Nats are correct and Strasburg won’t be kept out for long, his absence ultimately won’t hurt them much.
Cole was a Top 100 prospect as recently as 2015, but has seen his stock fall recently as he’s struggled to generate strikeouts. He has just one start under his belt in the Majors, a two inning outing in April of 2015 in which he also gave up nine runs. He’s scuffled slightly at triple-A in 2016, posting a 4.26 ERA in 124.2 innings, with 109 strikeouts, 35 walks, and 16 homers. He was up briefly from August 18-20, but didn’t get to appear and was optioned down when Ryan Zimmerman and Jose Lobaton came off the DL.
Still, the Nats need to see what Cole is about eventually, and Strasburg’s injury gives the 23 year old righty a chance to show what he can do against major league competition. And with a five game cushion over the Miami Marlins right now, it’s a good time for Washington to let him get his feet wet. Assuming, of course, that this doesn’t turn into a bigger problem than the Nats and Strasburg are letting on, it’s just a hiccup on the way to their third division title in five years.