Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is It Really Worth the Risk? Stephen Strasburg Needs to Sit, Rehab


Why are the Nationals doing this?? What is the team thinking?? If Stephen Strasburg was driving down the freeway recklessly, almost suspiciously so, involved in an auto crash or a multi-car pile-up, the Nationals would be very cautious with their hard-throwing phenom getting behind the wheel.

But then, he's being rushed back to make his pitching debut since the injury delayed his spectacular visits onto the mound when he's a valued element to the Nationals, a ballclub currently sitting at 20 games out of first place in the NL East. We can't forget something, though. Mark Prior and Mark Mulder came before him.

The wait wasn't longer than usual, almost quickly, rushing back the No. 1 draft selection, Strasburg, when he sustained a torn ligament in his pitching elbow that forced the rookie sensation to undergo Tommy John surgery. It's thoroughly expected each week that he is hopeful of making a comeback after a strong recovery in the midst of rehab to return healthier than ever.

He continues to be dumbfounded, oblivious and incautious, even more so with the temptations of rushing back his foresighted ace. Mike Rizzo, general manager for the Washington Nationals, plans for the 23-year-old right-hander to return potentially for a few late-season starts in the nation's capital. This would be considered a huge risk, a perilous move, a dateline for a setback or disaster to thwart a marveled tale for one of the miraculous comebacks in baseball.

The locals grasped when the Nationals recently allowed Strasburg to take major steps in his progress, but a hurried recovery can spell trouble if he grimace in pain and experience a setback, still healing and trying to recoup. And the relevance of his premature comeback is kind of eerie, not even one year removed from the surgical procedure he had Sept. 3.

It's unforeseen to see Strasburg recover so quickly of a horrific surgery that really has no specific timetable, but in this view, he has a larger chance to become a no-hit wonder, become the next 3,000 winner and become the hard-thrower in a town where he is a magnetic. That seems to be exactly what people are assuming, hopeful he's the next endearing athlete in the nation's capital.

The fact is, in attempting to be an advocate of rushing Strasburg back, it's quite horrendous to expect a speedy recovery from someone who is rehabbing to reappear fully robust. So if this is how it looks, he has been impressive, throwing 31 pitches in his first rehab start on Sunday.

So if this is what we are going to see, when he is fully healthy to pose as an unhittable ace on the hill every five days, he'll threw mainly fastballs, topping in the upper-90s, which he is already viewed as the best rookie ever -- amazingly while battling a season-ending injury that never lasted as long as anticipated.

The excitement of striking out four and surrendering a solo home run over 1 2-3 innings almost certainly writes a feel-good story for baseball when Strasburg is probably another paragon in the ailing game to alleviate the hysteria of woeful allegations that taints the beauty of our pastime.

We all recognize, by the way, much salvation is necessary to remind us that baseball is still relevant in our generation, not only in the period of our grandparents or great grandparents, a span when populace solely admired the game. The whole thing, regarding Strasburg's status, seems too orchestrated and horrendous, a gusty move for a ballclub depending on his success in the future.

And, truth be told, Nationals manager Davey Johnson said on Tuesday that Strasburg will throw three innings with a 50-pitch limit for Potomac. Lucky for the Nationals, he is healing from a severe injury faster than ever and the ballclub residing in Washington D.C. wants to stop being the laughingstock, the one franchise bullied in the NL East.

The club wants to end the lackluster performances and construct a sturdy pitching rotation of four hard-throwing pitchers, including Strasburg who is the cornerstone of the foundation for the Nationals. Many of us don't want to be fair to the athletes, realizing that he's not fully capable of throwing at his best, still not healthy enough to make a powerful impact.

"Stras is going to be on a normal program," Johnson said. "He'll go three innings on Friday with a limit of 50 pitches. He'll probably go the next time out, five days later, he'll go four innings, probably 60 pitches or something like that. Then he'll go five innings and 80 pitches and probably be ready to go."

It's fine to be skeptical of what the Nationals are planning, angling for Strasburg to pitch as soon as possible. That's a pretty terrifying decision when he's coming off Tommy John surgery, finding his form once again to pitch at an all-time high. The disposition and choice to bring Strasburg back prematurely jeopardizes his ability to throw, his arm strength, his health and long-term status with the franchise.

It's one of the harmful and poignant moments that may come back to haunt the Nationals, a regrettable preference to implode a gifted rotation and damage the career of Strasburg. If the Nats aren't careful as it might be a proper time to bring the right-hander back, with the logic of Prior and Mulder suffering career-threatening injuries, then a similar occurrence could happen if not worse.

At some point, if the media doesn't believe it, the angst is discovered more and more, as the team is burned out of all the endless hoopla circling Strasburg as the kid is unable to breathe with the hype and bevy of attention exposed by the media. Within hours of the announcement, Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner hightailed to Hagerstown, eager to see Strasburg return for the two innings of work.

The future for Strasburg looks bright, and that seems really bright if the Nats use him fairly and give him enough time to overcome an injury. He's had more attention, national attention that is, after his imposing debut in his first ever game in the majors and then he's treated more like a celebrity in the District of Columbia.

The more he wears a Nationals uniform, the more he is a beloved gentleman to properly change the Natinals brand name to the Nationals. In the town, where the nation's capital and plenty of the American monuments hail to symbolize patriotism, now in a place where baseball nearly embodies Strasburg, he earns more nods than President Obama.

If that's true, he can walk down Pennsylvania Ave., where he'd need to be heavily protected by special agents. It's all so obvious that he is an incredibly priceless asset, expected to accomplished wonderful achievements in a Nationals uniform and be one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game.

There are real reasons to believe, now that the Nationals are in charge of an manageable disaster, Washington is mishandling the situation and putting baseball's next best pitcher in harms way, strangely urging Strasburg to hurry and begin tossing pitches. Patience is virtue. That thought comes elsewhere, though.

It certainly isn't emphasized by the Nationals, willing to risk the career of one of their talented stars and seem confident that he's ready to return to actual form. It's too fast to suggest such a quick resurgence for someone who was never superhuman, but a natural sensation with prodigy, discipline and velocity in his untouchable fastball.

Beneath his renewal steps in rejuvenating, such as how he's surprisingly and instantly regaining strength in his throwing arm, he is a public figure of nuisance and prominence. His name is essentially a common one for a franchise, strangely handling the injury with apathy and instability, listening to Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, his former coach at San Diego State, talk about his confidence and competitive nature in college that has translated over to the majors.

It feels as if the Nationals have been fair and precautious with Strasburg in the past, even if Washington never issued pitch-counts or limited innings of work, allowing him to throw until he presented signs of fatigue. If the Nationals gives Strasburg, their franchise pitcher, a chance to throw in a few nugatory games in September and have him pitch against the toughest of the National League, it would one of the biggest mistakes.

What happens if, after making a strong progress and becoming useful since he underwent surgery to repair his torn ligament in his damaged elbow, Strasburg is placed back on the disabled list for reaggravating his elbow in his throwing arm? The Nationals are smart if he is only allowed to complete his rehab in the minor leagues, pitch in limited innings and return next season to the majors.

It's not worth the risk when the Nationals are evidently out of postseason conversations and mostly playing for pride, if nothing else. It's too bad that Washington isn't reluctant and comfortable with having Strasburg return to the mound for meaningless games.

What for?

It is a possibility that Rob Dibble, the former major league pitcher who is a conspiracy theorist, is often right about issues and believes literally and figuratively when he appeared on his Sirius XM Radio show and voiced his opinion. It turned surprising when he accused the Nats of rushing Washington's greatest back to the majors, just so they can sell out seats and persuade ticket buyers to purchase tickets for the 2012 season.

The perception of all of this is that most managers believe it's how hard the pitcher throws, not the number of innings pitched. Then again, relatively speaking, it depends on the pitcher himself. It's not too often that a pitcher return from Tommy John surgery earlier than the 12 to 18 month period, but amazingly for Strasburg, it has been exactly 11 months and he's already throwing in attempt to come back this season.

For the unthinkable to happen, he can use self-confidence and velocity in every aspect of his pitching. Lots of people are probably thinking and clearly realizes that he's the face of the franchise, earning a record-setting $15-million bonus contract, grabbing all the limelight with large expectations and plans for next season.

But upon a clearer understanding, really, if he's an amazing player and threw an impressive outing in his last start Sunday, why can't he wait until next spring and aim to be a historical 20-game winner? With his stuff, he is capable of winning so many games, a young fastball thrower who can really pitch and find his location after undergoing surgery.

He's a rare talent. Don't risk it now. There's next season.