Stephen Strasburg Wednesday showed us what we’ve all been waiting for. The most heralded young pitcher since Bob Feller is not only demonstrating that he is healed from his serious arm injury that cost him a year of play between 2010 and 2011, but that he might just be all that he was hyped up to be when he was coming out of college.
We can always use another Whitey Ford or Justin Verlander coming into the game and Strasburg arrived from San Diego State with all the fanfare of a superstar. Partially protected with short throwing stints by the Washington Nationals, the prize flame thrower still saw his zillion-dollar right arm break down and had to undergo Tommy John surgery.
When a pitcher suffers a torn ulner collateral ligament and needs that kind of operation, it is always nerve-wracking. Tommy John surgery has become the miracle cure for pitchers, but it doesn’t guarantee that a pitcher will be 100 percent of what he was before being sliced open. It provides the hope that he will be, but we have been so conditioned by success stories of pitching arms coming back from the dead, almost as if Tommy John operations were vo0doo magic, that we take it for granted. I’m sure that no pitcher that ever has to have major work done on the limb that provides his livelihood is so cavalier.
After he received comparable newspaper column inches and air time to President Obama two years ago, it is perhaps a good time for a refresher course on why everyone was ga-ga over Strasburg in the first place. After all, society has the attention span of gnats and a good portion of the American people have moved on to more pressing things like signing up for new apps and to whatever they think is the haps of the moment.
While Strasburg was still in college playing for Aztecs coach Tony Gwynn, he competed in the World University Games, winning gold, and was the only college player on the U.S. team at the Beijing Olympics. He pitched a one-hitter against the Netherlands and yes, for those guys it must have felt like tilting at windmills.
Strasburg wrapped up his college career by going 13-1 with an earned run average so small it could only be read by a magnifying glass. In his last home game he threw a no-hitter. Struck out 17, t0o.
Strasburg was the No. 1 pick in the draft in 2009, pitched in the Arizona Fall League, and taking a cautious approach the Nationals started him in AA in 2010. By June he was on the big club’s roster and whizzing his 100 mph fastball past Major League hitters just as if they were sophomores swearing allegiance to Gamma Kappa Delta. He won his debut and struck out 14 batters in seven innings.
By July, however, the Nationals and Strasburg were living a nightmare. He was on the disabled list, forced into surgery and rehab, and did not make another Major League start until August of 2010. Everyone said he was cured, but staring anew in 2012 Strasburg has proved it. He got the Opening Day start, and pitched well, but got no decision. The Nationals do not want heroic efforts from Strasburg, who is now 23. They have decreed a 160-inning limit for the season and a 100-pitch limit per game.
Wednesday, the last rule was shown to be flexibile. Beating the New York Mets, 1-0, Strasburg threw six innings, gave up two hits and struck out nine. He also threw 108 pitches. Manager Dave Johnson almost lifted Strasburg after 102 when the Mets were threatening, but he let Strasburg ride and it paid off.
Strasburg was happy he avoided getting the hook.
“As a starter, it’s the worst feeling getting taken out in the middle of an inning and not being able to finish it,” he said. “I don’t like it.”
Every starter wants to go the distance and hardly does any ever get the chance these days. Right now we’re getting extended glimpses of what Strasburg can be and it’s pretty darned impressive. Two starts into the season he’s 1-0 with an 0.69 ERA.
It’s just a tease, but that beats being on the disabled list by a mile.
Topics: Arizona Fall League, Bob Feller, Dave Johnson, Justin Verlander, New York Mets, Olympics, President Obama, San Diego State, Stephen Strasburg, Tommy John Surgery, Tony Gwynn, Washington Nationals, Whitey Ford