The best player on the best team in baseball played his last game of the season Saturday. The prevailing wisdom of coddling pitchers in baseball today means that the Washington Nationals will be without Stephen Strasburg as they march towards the postseason for the first time since moving to Washington, D.C., in 2005.
Strasburg, the ace of the Washington Nationals, has been shut down for the season. He is healthy and pitching effectively, but Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo decided before the season started. He did this to limit Strasburg’s innings this season as a precaution because he underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his elbow in September 2010. The surgery, named after an All-Star pitcher, is a procedure that replaces the torn ligament with a tendon from another part of the body. The typical recovery time for the procedure is one year.
My only pitching experience since I was 11 years old consists of two innings of a high school junior varsity game. So I decided to enlist the insight of someone with a little more experience in handling a pitching staff: Ithaca College baseball Head Coach George Valesente. The legendary coach has won more than 1,000 games and two national championships with the Bombers. Valesente was a minor league pitcher himself in the late 1960s. He emphasized there is no guarantee that Strasburg won’t suffer an injury in the future.
“If you put him out there this season and he gets hurt, what is to say he wouldn’t hurt it at the beginning of the next year?” he said.
Valesente said pitchers often return stronger from Tommy John surgery than before they were injured. Strasburg is now two years removed from surgery and has shown no signs of any lingering side effects this season. He has made it clear that he wants to continue to pitch. It seems that the shutdown may have affected his confidence. His final start of the season was his worst, as he gave up five earned runs in only three innings of work.
“I don’t know if I’m ever gonna accept it, to be honest,” Strasburg said after his final start. “It’s something that I’m not happy about at all. That’s not why I play the game. I play the game to be a good teammate and win.”
Valesente said it would be a hard decision, but if he was the general manager of the Nationals and Strasburg wanted to pitch and showed no signs of injury, he would keep him on the mound.
“I would like to have him out there,” he said. “If they were 10 games out of first I would say go ahead and shut him down, but they have a chance to get to the World Series and win the World Series. This might be it. Next year you might not have that opportunity.”
The Nationals are a young team, and most experts project them to be World Series contenders for years to come. However there is no such thing as a sure thing in baseball. This could be the Nationals’ best chance to bring a World Series to Washington for the first time since 1924, and they are willingly making it harder for themselves. I’m with Valesente — let him pitch.