No red flags in Nats' handling of Strasburg

Updated: August 29, 2010, 3:07 PM ET
By Buster Olney

When Stephen Strasburg had knee trouble in the Arizona Fall League last year, the Nationals shut him down to make sure he did not compensate for the problem with his arm motion and put himself at higher risk for injury.

His preparation for spring training was closely monitored, and after Strasburg arrived for his first camp in the big leagues, his pitch counts were built carefully, steadily. His first starts in the minor leagues were carefully regimented, and if he had unusually stressful innings, he was removed.

After reaching the big leagues, Strasburg never threw more than 99 pitches in any outing. He never threw a pitch in the eighth inning of any game. As he warmed up for a start in July, he felt some stiffness in his shoulder -- and he was immediately shut down. He came back from that and made three starts, and on the 53rd pitch of a start against the Phillies and the 1,070th pitch of his major league career, Strasburg felt a cramping sensation in his forearm -- and now he's headed for Tommy John surgery. The Nationals did everything they could to protect him and keep him from placing unusual stress on his arm, and he still blew out his elbow.

The reality is that pitching is a motion that is not natural for the human arm; as one doctor explained, every time you throw a baseball at 90 mph, you are on the verge of dislocating your shoulder, and the muscles in your body contract reflexively to keep your arm intact. The reality is that pitchers get hurt.

The Cincinnati Reds took more of an old-school approach with right-hander Mike Leake. He had a strong spring training and without the benefit of throwing a single pitch in the minors, Leake made the Reds' rotation -- and in his first professional start, he threw 106 pitches.

Leake threw no fewer than six innings in his first 11 starts, and made no fewer than 91 pitches in any of those outings. The first start in which he threw fewer than 91 pitches, in fact, didn't come until July 4. The Reds were more willing than the Nationals to stretch the current conventional wisdom on how to handle young pitchers.

And on the same day that Washington announced Strasburg will likely need reconstructive elbow surgery, the Reds shut down Leake because of arm fatigue, as mentioned within this Tom Groeschen notebook.

The reality is that pitching is a motion that is not natural for the human arm, and that pitchers get hurt. With very few exceptions, the only real question, it seems, is when, and how serious the injury is.

Strasburg was the centerpiece of the Nationals' franchise, and now Washington has to sell itself without its star attraction. The team will take all due caution during Strasburg's rehabilitation period, and if he needs time, they'll give him time; the Nationals won't push him, recklessly. But some appearances by Strasburg near the end of next season could be very important to the team. Strasburg is lost as a marketing tool for 2011, but he could help in the run-up to 2012 -- which could also be the first year that Bryce Harper has serious playing time.

Strasburg wants to write down everything he sees and feels, Adam Kilgore writes. Thomas Boswell wonders what kind of Strasburg will return. Mike Wise feels sorry for Ryan Zimmerman, in the aftermath of the Strasburg injury.

Ben Sheets knows what Stephen Strasburg is going through, John Shea writes. C.J. Wilson, speaking from experience, says he knew Strasburg was hurt.

Nine pitchers who underwent Tommy John surgery were selected for the 2010 All-Star Game: