Back on June 8, everyone at my friend Coleman’s house had a look of glee on their face. We were all mesmerized by this young 21-year old flamethrower and were captivated by each pitch that left his hand. Smiles and high fives were exchanged after a particularly nasty pitch and cheers rang out after each baffled batter walked back to the dugout with looks of utter confusion on their faces.
The Nationals prized pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg didn’t just look like the real deal–– it was more than that. The electrifying fastball was his trademark pitch, and on this, the night of his major league debut, it was routinely in the 98-101 MPH range. But Strasburg was far from just a hard thrower; this kid was a true pitcher. He mixed in a 90 MPH change up (yes, change up), a 93-94 MPH sinker, and a devastating, knee-buckling curveball. Four plus-pitches that the phenom could throw for strikes at any time in any count. Strasburg dazzled in his first MLB start, giving up just two runs while striking out 14 batters, including the last seven he faced. This was it, a savior for Washington area baseball.
Just about seven weeks after the memorable debut, Strasburg was scratched from his scheduled start against the Atlanta Braves because he couldn’t get loose before the game. Strasburg was later put on the DL with shoulder stiffness, and everyone in D.C. thanked their lucky stars that it wasn’t anything more serious than that.
Strasburg returned rather quickly and in just his third start off the DL, he was in the midst of dominating the reigning two-time NL Champion Phillies. It looked as though the rookie was back to form, lighting up the radar gun again while tallying six strikeouts and surrendering just two hits in 4.1 innings. Then Strasburg threw what appeared to be just another ordinary 97 MPH fastball, except this time something wasn’t right. Strasburg winced in pain and shook his arm.
Once again all Washington area baseball fans held their breath as their baseball savior walked off the field and was later put on the DL for a second time in his short major league career. As Nationals fans said a collective prayer for the man that Washington outfielder Nyjer Morgan nicknamed “Jesus,” Strasburg underwent two different MRI’s. Unfortunately, Nationals fans weren’t so lucky this time around, as the second of the MRI’s revealed that Strasburg had a torn ligament in his pitching elbow that will require the dreaded Tommy John surgery. The surgery has been scheduled for tomorrow and the estimated timetable for recovery from this surgery is 12-18 months, meaning that not only is Strasburg’s rookie season finished, but that most likely the next time fans will get a chance to see him pitch again won’t come until 2012.
But the big question remains, which Stephen Strasburg will baseball fans see when he does return? Will he be able to recapture the brief dominance he had in his short stint in the majors? Will he be able to dial his fastball up to 100 again or snap those nasty curves the same way he showed this season? While it’s true that Tommy John surgery has seen advancements in recent years, and there have been more success stories recently (i.e. Chris Carpenter, Josh Johnson, Tim Hudson), it is still far from an exact science. While we all hope for the best, we just don’t know what the future holds for the National’s young star.
The thought of Strasburg’s unlimited potential going unreached is disheartening to say the least, but while we all hope otherwise it could very well be a reality. No one wants another Kerry Wood or Mark Prior story, but both of those guys were every bit as tantalizing to watch as Strasburg and their careers didn’t quite go as planned. So even though it was a sunny day in the mid-80’s last Friday in the Nation’s Capital, it seemed rather dark and gloomy out to me.