Stephen Strasburg’s elbow injury Wednesday night is more serious for the Washington Nationals long term than it is now. Is he truly injury prone?
Wednesday night was the Washington Nationals worst nightmare. When Stephen Strasburg clenched his right hand into a ball, 20,000 hearts instantly sank. His eyes told a story no one wanted to hear. Whatever is wrong with the elbow has not gone away.
As you know, Strasburg underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011 and was not back to full strength until 2013. Nagging neck injuries shortened last season and the balky elbow already sent him to the disabled list this year. Regardless of how the MRI comes out, it is safe to say Strasburg is injury prone.
With the likelihood of a National League Divisional Series showdown against the Los Angeles Dodgers looming, the Nationals are in a better place with Strasburg pitching Game 2 than not. Clayton Kershaw is in the other dugout surely pitching Game 1 and 5 if needed. Strasburg gives insurance behind Max Scherzer.
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Last night illustrated the problems go deeper than October. When healthy, Strasburg is as advertised. A hard-throwing strikeout machine that will wear other teams out. What we saw in his short stint Wednesday is proof of how good he is. The last few starts before the disabled list stint were terrible, climaxing in the short stint and rout in Denver against the Colorado Rockies.
Once this season ends, Strasburg’s seven-year contract extension kicks in. Although there is an opt-out after three seasons, the chances of Washington escaping that clause greatly shrinks.
Even with the injury and the lead up, he is still a 15-game winner. Before those bad starts, his ERA hovered above 3.10. In seven years, he has 69 wins, 1084 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.17 in 156 starts. Everything you could have hoped for the night the Nationals drafted him out of San Diego State has come true, albeit in a fragile package.
Right now, that is the concern. Are we going to see this pattern happen again over the next few seasons of outstanding outings couched around arm trouble? With Scherzer, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross leading the rotation, they can work around Strasburg’s arm issues and maintain their iron grip in the NL East.
Strasburg is 28. This is the prime of his career. Another Tommy John would be devastating for everyone, including him. Imagine him not ready to pitch again until 2018, and with inning limits upon the return.
For everyone’s sake, let’s hope this is a blip of trying to come back too soon in the heat of a pennant race. Still, the questions now will linger the rest of his career.