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Stephen Strasburg's injury is not the Washington Nationals' biggest problem

As I type this, four of the top five headlines on the ESPN MLB page are as follows:

  • Nationals ace Strasburg exits after 3rd inning

  • Tigers RHP Verlander gets MRI on triceps

  • Report: Rays' Cobb has tear in elbow ligament

  • Padres place Morrow on DL with ailing shoulder

This is getting depressing. Stephen Strasburg threw three innings on Tuesday night, labored through 64 pitches and was removed from the game, which the Miami Marlins won over Washington Nationals 2-1. The two runs scored off Strasburg in the second inning held up. After the game, the Nationals didn't seem to suggest this was a serious injury; Strasburg will merely visit a chiropractor on Tuesday:

Irritation today, and hopefully nothing more tomorrow. Let's hope it's nothing serious, but the frustrating thing as a fan is that watching the game you could see Strasburg wincing in pain as early as the first inning and awkwardly lifting his shoulder, as you can see in the highlights from the game. Still, manager Matt Williams left him in.

The obvious question: Why was he left in to throw two more innings? Especially a guy with Tommy John surgery in his past. A guy who spent 15 days on the DL in June 2013 with a sore shoulder. A pitcher once deemed so valuable by the organization that it chose to sit him in the 2012 playoffs, rather than field their best team. Williams and the trainer apparently met with Strasburg after the second inning, yet he was allowed to pitch another inning. If he was OK then, why was he removed an inning later?

It just seemed strange to me. As John Smoltz said on MLB Network, "I'm a little surprised he wasn't taken out earlier."

For now, it looks like minor discomfort, so we'll wait and see. The Nationals have Tanner Roark in the bullpen as the sixth starter, and he was very good last year, posting the 12th-best ERA in the National League. Even in a worst-case scenario, where Strasburg has to sit for a time, the drop-off from Strasburg to Roark isn't a significant issue, other than depleting bullpen depth.

If it is a major issue, or leads to something major, it would be the fourth significant injury of Strasburg's career. Besides the Tommy John surgery in 2010 and the shoulder soreness in 2013, he had elbow chips removed after the 2013 season. Many have suggested through the years that his mechanics -- with the dreaded inverted W that leaves his elbow higher than his shoulder and wrist and -- would potentially lead to more injuries. Here's Pedro Martinez a few weeks ago explaining the flaw in Strasburg's balance. Here's another analysis from 2012 comparing Strasburg's mechanics to the picture-perfect mechanics of Greg Maddux.

Anyway, there's a reason the Nationals were so eager to throw a boatload of money at Max Scherzer: With Jordan Zimmermann's impending free agency and unknown future status and Strasburg's long-term health always a potential risk, they gave big money to a pitcher who has never missed a start with an arm injury.

Obviously, the rest of those headlines spells more bad news on the pitching front. Justin Verlander has now had three MRIs. Alex Cobb will apparently try to pitch through his partially torn ligament, like Masahiro Tanaka. Brandon Morrow -- like Strasburg and Verlander, a guy who once possessed an upper 90s fastball -- was off to a good start for the Padres and now faces yet another injury.

The fifth headline I didn't list above: Anthony Rendon, rehabbing a knee injury in the minors, will now miss time with a strained oblique. Position players are supposed to be less fragile than pitchers, but Rendon has a long list of injuries going back to the minors and his college days at Rice. As good as he was last season -- fifth in the MVP voting after leading the NL in runs scored and driving in 83 -- at this point his production for 2015 remains a question mark.

Meanwhile, the Nationals have a manager who said he pinch hit Tyler Moore in the ninth by citing the fact that Moore was 1-for-1 off Steve Cishek as "evidence" of ... I don't know what, because no manager should be citing 1-for-1 as evidence of anything. (Williams would say Jayson Werth was unavailable except in an emergency, so I guess a run down in the ninth didn't qualify.)

The Nationals have the talent to win this division going away. But poor play and injuries and the Mets' hot start have created an uphill bill -- and suggests Williams may actually become a factor in this race. And that may be a bigger problem than Strasburg missing a few starts.