Steve McCatty, Lee Kuntz and Davey Johnson watch Stephen Strasburg throw.
In the end, there was nothing for everyone to be worried about. The fourth-inning comebacker caught Strasburg on the fleshy pad of his left thumb, not on a less-protected part of his hand, wrist or forearm. And after a couple minutes spent getting the feeling back in the hand and then throwing a couple of warm-up tosses, Strasburg was back to his old self, striking out a pair of Tigers to end the inning and continue his Grapefruit League start unabated.
"It's fine," the right-hander insisted afterward. "It just kind of numbed up a little bit out there. It's a little tender, but nothing crazy."
The Nationals haven't had any real serious injury scares this spring, one of many reasons why this team feels like it's well-positioned to storm out of the gates strong when the season opens in 10 days. But that brief instant this afternoon was a stark reminder that good vibes can poof into thin air with one freak injury to a star player.
"It was a scare," manager Davey Johnson said. "No doubt about it."
Johnson joined head trainer Lee Kuntz and pitching coach Steve McCatty at the mound after the incident and spent several minutes talking to Strasburg as he shook his left hand trying to get the feeling back.
"It just took a while for it to kind of sink in that it hit me," the pitcher said. "It just kind of got numb, just shook it out and it was tender after that."
The Fielder line drive was a mere footnote by the end of Strasburg's afternoon, one in which the Nationals' Opening Day starter surrendered three runs on seven hits over six innings but was pleased with the way he threw in his penultimate appearance of the spring.
"I felt like I pitched pretty well," he said. "I got weak contact and they just ... singled me to death, other than the home run early. But that's baseball."
The home run was hit by Detroit outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo, who crushed a 2-1 fastball from Strasburg over the right-field fence in the top of the second. That came at the start of Strasburg's strongest sequence of the day. He threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of 16 batters faced between the second and fifth innings, often using his knee-buckling curveball to get ahead of hitters who have come to expect fastballs from the right-hander early in the count.
"Guys like that, they're going to hack," he said. "The first fastball they see, they're going to swing at it. So I've just got to keep them off-balance and go out there and pitch."
Strasburg did a pretty good job of that, making it through four innings on only 56 pitches before laboring some during a 26-pitch fifth. He finished strong, though, retiring the side in the sixth to cap his afternoon at 89 pitches.
That's as much as we'll see Strasburg throw before April 1. He'll be ramped down some in his final spring start (Wednesday against the Braves), held to about 70 pitches according to Johnson.
But the reins will come off Strasburg once the Nationals head north, and he'll be good to top 100 pitches on Opening Day if he looks strong.
"My arm felt great today," he said. "I think my stamina is there. I felt as strong, if not looser, from the first inning to the sixth. I definitely could've gone back out there for the rest of the game, to be honest. That's a good sign. It's going in the right direction."