August 27th, 2010 was arguably one of the worst days in Washington Nationals franchise history. The ballclub announced that rookie sensation and franchise savior Stephen Strasburg had torn his ulnar collateral ligament, requiring the three most dreaded words in baseball: Tommy John Surgery.
The 2011 season was supposed to be one a wash for the Nats . No Strasburg. No Bryce Harper. Ryan Zimmerman’s extended stay on the disabled list. How could there possibly be any bright spots for a team competing in one of the toughest divisions in all of sports?
Somehow, someway, this team fought through adversity, hanging around .500 for most of the season. Danny Espinosa has emerged as one of the best young middle infielders in the National League. Mike Morse has become the most feared bat in a slugging lineup, and the starting rotation carried the Nationals during June’s improbable win streak.
So the 2011 Nationals were surprisingly watchable for the average D.C. sports fan, and have put themselves in an excellent position to succeed in 2012 with all of this year’s surprise performers. You can add Strasburg to the list of astonishing feats. Less than a year after surgery, Strasburg debuted in Hagerstown last Sunday, striking out three in 1 2/3 innings pitched. Many had thought last year in August that Washington would be extra cautious and at the minimum sit out Strasburg for the entirety of the 2011 campaign.
Reports surfaced that Strasburg’s fastball topped out at 98 MPH, an overly impressive number for his first start back. The right-hander did allow a home run in his 30 pitches as is expected. He may have had more jitters on the mound Sunday than his June debut last season against the Pirates. Number 37 threw a 50 pitch bullpen session on Tuesday and is expected to start for the Potomac Nationals this Friday.
Multiple outlets are reporting that as long as there are no setbacks during Friday’s start, Strasburg is going to remain in a five day rotation schedule, shifting around between the various minor league affiliates, depending on who is playing at home.
I’m all in favor of what Mike Rizzo and the organization are doing with Strasburg. In fact, I don’t really see how anyone could argue against it. Strasburg completed every fashion of his rehab with diligence and keeping him on this pitch count leash will make sure that his health is the number one priority. Of course we would all like to see him back at Nationals Park before the season ends, but only his right arm will be the deciding factor.