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The Strike Zone

Stephen Strasburg's forearm tightness raises red flags for Nationals ace

Stephen Strasburg, NationalsStephen Strasburg pitched seven strong innings last night but the real story of his outing was how healthy he is. (Getty Images)

The Nationals are calling it "forearm tightness." Maybe it's nothing, but when Stephen Strasburg shakes his right arm after throwing a pitch and then gets medical attention for arm trouble after the game, red flags go up everywhere.

On the surface, Strasburg pitched well in Washington's 3-2 loss to the Braves on Monday night. He struck out eight men in six innings and allowed two runs, one of which shouldn't have counted because the third out was recorded at third base before the runner reached home, a close call the umpires got wrong. However, he battled wildness throughout those six innings, walking four men, throwing  just 57 percent of his pitches for strikes, and even hitting home plate umpire Laz Diaz in the shin with a first-inning pitch so wild it evaded catcher Kurt Suzuki.

Then there was that arm shake. There was a subtle one after a curveball to Chris Johnson in the third inning. Then a more obvious one after a 95 mile per hour fastball to Justin Upton in the fifth. Still, the Nationals sent him back out for the sixth, an inning in which Strasburg struck out the side in order on 13 pitches finishing his night by throwing a 97 mph heater past B.J. Upton. To say the Nationals will take no chances with the health of Strasburg's arm is an understatement, so it says something that he wasn't pulled from the game until his spot in the lineup came up in the top of the seventh inning of what was then a tie game.

It's also worth noting that Strasburg, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010 and was famously shutdown last season to keep him healthy for this year and beyond, used to shake his arm with regularity after pitches. "Just trying to stay loose and stuff," a somewhat miffed Strasburg said after the game while insisting that he would make his next start.

So the arm-shake may be a red herring, but the lack of command was a concern for Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who armed alarmists with the news that Strasburg had "a little tightness, I think in his forearm" and  received "some medication" (likely anti-inflammatories) for it after the game, as well as with the fact that he might have let Strasburg hit for himself in the seventh inning but he was "overly concerned."

"I'm sure he's going to be examined every which way you look at," Johnson added.

Strasburg's turn in the rotation will come back around on Saturday afternoon when the Nationals are in Pittsburgh. They have four days to determine if he should start that game.
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