It's entirely possible that Stephen Strasburg's latest injury is no big deal.
The Washington Nationals' right-hander left his start Friday in Atlanta after two innings, and word from manager Davey Johnson is that it's a strained right oblique. He's headed back to D.C. to be examined by the team doctor, so we won't know the severity of the injury until at least tomorrow. One hopes Strasburg won't have to miss any time.
Of course, there is a chance he misses a start (or more), which would put the Nationals further behind the eight-ball in a season in which everyone (including the Nationals) assumed they would cruise to the playoffs. And while no one is wishing poor health for Strasburg, I'd guess there are more than a few people in the industry who would get a quiet kick out of the Nats missing out on October.
Whether it was intentional or not, there was a healthy dose of hubris in the Nationals' decision to shut down Strasburg at the end of last season. It was as if they were saying to the league, "It's cool, we're so good we'll be back a few more times with this squad."
That could still be the case -- the Nats did win 3-2 tonight -- but it fails to account for the fact that the stars were aligned for Washington last season. Not only was Strasburg dominant, but so too was Gio Gonzalez. Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond had career years and Jayson Werth had a bit of a renaissance. And that Harper kid had an impressive debut to boot.
Of that group, only Bryce Harper is playing better this year, but he, like Werth, has spent a lot of time on the shelf, while LaRoche and Gonzalez have not been nearly as impressive. There are no guarantees in baseball, and the Nationals decision to not go all-in on the 2012 season could haunt the franchise for years.
Furthermore, we should know by now that pitcher injuries are incredibly unpredictable, and you can only do so much to prevent them. While the Nationals had the best interests of Strasburg and the organization in mind when they shut him down last season, they had no way of knowing if they could prevent an injury. He could end up on the disabled list because of the injury he suffered tonight -- and that could cost them a playoff spot.
(Another perfect example of this phenomenon is Orioles prospect Dylan Bundy. The O's could not have been more careful with him last year, limiting him to outings of fewer than five innings for most of the season. Yet he's suffered arm soreness this year and has yet to pitch an inning.)
It would be a bit depressing if Strasburg ends up hurt, as the game is always better when the best players are on the field, so let's hope that he doesn't have to miss any time. However, even if he's fine, we shouldn't forget the fact that you can't take anything for granted. Frankly, it's part of what makes this game so interesting.