The Potential Of No Stephen Strasburg In 2011 Could Lead To A Gloomy Fall For Washington

Adam Kilgore reported the sobering but perhaps rather inevitable news that Stephen Strasburg may not return from Tommy John surgery until the 2012 season. According to Kilgore, Strasburg is slightly behind the schedule which fellow Nats pitcher Jordan Zimmermann had last year when recovering from the same surgery.

“Last year, in spring training, Zimmermann threw off a mound for the first time precisely seven months and three days after his surgery. Strasburg’s surgery happened exactly seven months, 10 days ago.

But, as Nationals officials have emphasized ever since Strasburg underwent the surgery, not every pitcher advances at the same rate when rehabbing from ligament-replacement surgery. The recovery takes between 12 and 18 months, and just because Zimmermann’s took about a year does not mean Strasburg’s will, too.”

Many of the Nats faithful had hope that Strasburg would take the mound in Washington in 2011. They hoped this not out of a fallacy that he would help propel them to the playoffs with a late season push, but rather out of the simple desire to feel good. That may sound simple enough, but feeling good about Nats Town has not been something that has been easy to do over the past several years.

Last season, though, things were different. In the seven home games that Strasburg started, Nationals Park came alive like it never had before. Yes, Strasburg dazzled us by striking out batters at an unbelievable rate, seeming at times invincible, but to many the thrill from that on the field success failed in comparison to the thrill of having a large, energized, even celebratory fan base. On those summer nights in which he pitched, the energy grew and grew, feeding off of itself like an unstoppable wave of baseball enthusiasm. 

Even before Strasburg took the mound for his first major league start, people were aptly calling his debut Strasmus. They couldn’t have been more right…the energy felt in Nats Park that night he struck out 14 Pirate batters was the closest thing Nationals fans have ever felt to a playoff atmosphere in their young history. Like a kid waiting all year long for Christmas, Nationals fans had waited five long seasons for true baseball energy to hit Washington…and it hit hard that July night.

However this news from Kilgore divides the fan and the analyst in all of us. We want to believe, but know better not to. Not that the news is a tragedy, or even necessarily bad for that matter. Stephen is fine, and will still likely be back stronger than ever, but to many of us the idea of seeing him back in 2011 was a foregone conclusion. Perhaps it was overly hopeful, but given Zimmermann’s recovery and the advances in the surgery, we thought that maybe in September we’d have Strasmus once again. Now it looks like there may just be coal in our baseball stockings.

The good news is that if he doesn’t make a start again in 2011, the Nationals are being smart about things. There are many franchises in this league that would take the risk of rushing a cash cow like Strasburg back to the majors. Any game he pitches in would easily be the most attended of the season, and when the year winds down and the Nats are about a dozen games below .500, that can be pretty tempting for a club that will be struggling to draw fans.

It’s the right decision to be patient, of course it is. But with the potential of an NFL lockout, effectively ending the Redskins season, fall-time as a D.C sports fans is beginning to look more and more bleak.