Tommy John surgery is the worst diagnosis for a pitcher. But Tommy John surgery is even worse for Stephen Strasburg, as his potential Tommy John surgery will put an early halt to his career. Strasburg got off to a Cinderella start when the Nationals brought him up, exceeding all the high expectations. But when he got put on the disabled list weeks ago, the first speed bump started to show. Now it has become a pothole, as the biggest Tommy John surgery in years is on the horizon.
After Strasburg was taken out of last weekend’s start in Philadelphia, the Nationals held their breath for a diagnosis. Rumors were getting worse in the last 24 hours, and now the most damaging ones have come true.
According to the Washington Post, Tommy John surgery may be required for the Nationals’ phenom. General Manager Mike Rizzo said that Strasburg must repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, which is a notoriously lengthy process. In fact, Strasburg will miss 12 months, at the least, and will probably not return until 2012.
All of a sudden, the Nationals’ best laid plans to return to relevancy have been derailed, as they face a return to the baseball wilderness in 2011. However, the Tommy John surgery is meant to protect the years after that, as they need Strasburg healthy for the long term future.
This kind of news will inspire the worst fear in Washington, and in the baseball world. After touting Strasburg as the next great pitcher, they now have to hope he will last long enough to prove it. Tommy John surgery is often considered a death blow to a pitcher’s career, although many have still flourished after having it.
Nationals fans and management hope that Strasburg will be more like Tommy John himself, or David Wells, John Smoltz, Tim Hudson or Chris Carpenter. When he does come back, his return will have even more uncertainty than his major league debut did.
After Strasburg had his 14 strikeout debut months ago, he cruised along to a solid overall start, until he was scratched from a start against Atlanta at the last minute. Once he returned, he had two troubling starts, yet was dominating the Phillies last Saturday night. But following Tommy John surgery, that night will be the last glimpse of Strasburg on a mound for a long time.
The Nationals will be questioned for how they handled things, and whether they should have even brought him back from the DL at all. Yet the team had been extremely careful in how they used him, knowing full well what was at stake. For all their caution and concern, however, it did not prevent their worst nightmare.
Still, Tommy John surgery itself is not their greatest nightmare. The worst fears will be answered afterwards, in late 2011 or 2012, as they pray Strasburg will be his old self again. 12 to 18 months is always a long wait, but this may be the longest one in recent baseball history.
Washington Post- “Stephen Strasburg ‘probably’ needs Tommy John surgery, will miss 12 to 18 months”
ESPN- “Who are the best Tommy John pitchers?”