THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Dis-armed? Strasburg has a year to get well

a jock
Flickr/Scott Ableman

Last year when Stephen Strasburg earned his only loss in the NCAA Regionals, I was pretty happy about it–- it did come against UVA, after all–- but now all I can do is feel sorry for the guy. It's not for nothing the baseball world has been on Strasburg Watch 24 hours a day for weeks. He's a phenomenon, the man who single-handedly raised the Nationals from nothing to something.

But now that same nothingness looms darkly on the horizon.

I'm not an orthopedic surgeon or a pitching coach, but when Strasburg made only a handful of starts (12) this season and is still heading for Tommy John surgery, I have a hard time faulting the Nationals. 

As fans and analysts try to figure out who destroyed the most famous arm in baseball, it should be duly noted that any pitcher who throws as fast as Strasburg is destined for the OR. Let's get serious– Stephen Strasburg repeatedly threw a 101-mph fastball in college, and at times the radar gun topped 103 mph. (And that was when he was a junior.)

Realistically, how long can that arm last? 

Not to dismiss the seriousness of the situation, but Strasburg, who had already injured himself in college, was betting his arm would last long enough to ink a huge Major League deal. And with the bottom-feeding Scott Boras as his agent, Strasburg came out on top. 

The Nationals' $15.1 million was a new record and about $5 million more than the Cubs gave Mark Prior in 2001. 

Prior was Strasburg before Strasburg was Strasburg, and the once co-King of Chicago (a title he shared with Kerry Wood)– a hard-throwing phenom who had a broken-down arm after just a couple of years. Now at age 29, four years after he last saw a Major League mound, Prior is pitching relief with the Orange County Flyers (a Golden Baseball League team not affiliated with the MLB or the minor leagues) and praying for a second chance at the brass ring. 

No one has come right out and said Strasburg's career is over (although people love to speculate). And a bad arm, while no joke, doesn't necessarily sound the death knell. But that being said, can a tiger ever change his stripes? 

The only pitcher ever to clock a speedier throw than Strasburg was Detroit Tigers' reliever Joel Zumaya, who threw a 104.8-mph fastball during the 2006 ALCS. While Strasburg may have a better-than-decent slider, the fastball isn't just his bread and butter; it's his claim to fame. With Tommy John surgery being treated more casually than ever, if the Nationals want their star pitcher to remain a star, they just might have to keep him on a short leash when he returns.

That return is scheduled for no earlier than the 2011 All-Star break. Strasburg is only 22, and by his own admission, he has not always been "the most mature guy."  

But he has the willpower to change things that don't work (in college he morphed from overweight and slothful to fit and fast after being told to give up on baseball), so what the 2011 Strasburg will be is anyone's guess.

Will he still be chasing his 104.8-mph self, or will he have found a way to live with 101 mph? Will he insist management keep a close watch on his arm, or will he fall prey to the fallacy that the team owns him, arm and all, and can use him as they wish? 

Whatever his choice, he's got a year to get up his gumption.

Another note to the disabused and unfortunate citizens of Washington and its environs: it may be hard to restrain yourselves, but don't commit hari kari if Donovan McNabb doesn't play in the preseason finale— you have another couple of weeks to enjoy life before packing it in. 

The Redskins opener isn't until September 12, and surely even a grizzled old quarterback recovering from a sprained ankle can outplay pretty-boy Tony Romo, right? 

Hear that? It's the sound of half the Commonwealth crossing its fingers.


 Juanita Giles lives in Keysville where she makes videos.


1 comment

Don't forget Aroldis Chapman