In this installment of the Best Moments of the Washington Nationals 2011 season, we'll remember phenom Stephen Strasburg's return to Major League Baseball on September 6, 2011 after missing more than a year due to Tommy John surgery.
The Nationals were facing a Los Angeles Dodgers organization mired in drama from owner Frank McCourt's divorce drama that affected team morale and occasionally left paydays in question for the Dodgers players. Because this is the Best Moments of the Year, we won't focus on the negatives of this game, including that the Nationals lost after the bullpen gave up 7 earned runs in just 4 innings of relief, or the total mismanagement that allowed Brad Peacock's debut to be in relief with inherited runners. Today, it's all about Strasburg's debut, the second time around.
Strasburg didn't quite return to baseball the same way he entered it the first time. It wasn't to a sold out 40,000+ fans at Nationals Park. It was in front of just 29,092 fans. Strasburg also didn't go 7 innings and strike out 14 as he did in his MLB debut in 2010. Again, none of this is the point.
He pitched 5 innings of no-run, 2-hit baseball and struck out 4 Dodgers. The stats aren't the big story here, though they are pretty impressive. It's the fact that the Nationals first true ace had successfully returned from major reconstructive elbow surgery without a setback. This was the ultimate development as Nationals fans held their collective breaths to see what would happen. Strasburg went on to start 4 more games last season, putting together a 1.50 ERA, striking out 24, an average of a little over 1 K per inning, and walking a total of just 2 batters
This game wasn't as big for the 2011 season as it will be for the 2012 season and beyond. It was the return and the setup for what is to come next season. If the improvement that Jordan Zimmermann showed in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery is any indication, the Washington Nationals are in store for something truly special from their #1 starter.
We don't want to get ahead of ourselves here, but Stephen Strasburg sure looks like the kind of pitcher you can see starting the first playoff game in Nationals history, don't you think? There's an argument to be made here that this moment is actually the single biggest success of last season, but we thought it deserved the 4 slot. Three more exciting posts to come. Let us know what you think.