Stephen Strasburg is “close” to reaching a significant milestone in his recovery from Tommy John surgery by throwing off a mound again, Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty said this afternoon. Strasburg is in the final stages of his long-toss program, which he began Jan. 31, and the Nationals are comfortable with his progress
“Everything is going along fine,” McCatty said this afternoon. “I know he’s close to throwing off the mound. I’m sure he’s getting close to it. I know there were some discussions about it. It will be shortly. Everything has been going fine.”
McCatty spoke with Strasburg recently and, “he said he feels great,” McCatty said. “I know he’s bored. I know he’s probably going nuts. But he’s sticking with it.”
Strasburg has not reached the mound as quickly as Jordan Zimmermann did last season after he underwent ligament-replacement surgery, but that is not necessarily representative of Strasburg’s recovery. Zimmermann threw from a mound seven months and three days after his surgery and returned to the majors in roughly a year. Strasburg underwent his surgery eight months and eight days ago.
As the Nationals have emphasized since Strasburg was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, the rehab takes between 12 to 18 months and is an individual process for each pitcher who endures it.
“When he’s ready, he’s ready,” McCatty said. “If it’s 12 months like Zimmermann or a little longer or a little shorter, we just can’t sit here and say, ‘Bang, here’s the milestone, now the clock is ticking.’ It doesn’t work that way. He’s feeling fine. He’s getting close. Everything is going well. You got to take your time. You can’t rush it. And he says he feels great.”
During spring training, Strasburg said that, while wishing to follow the team’s and his doctor’s protocol, he hoped to pitch in the majors late this season. The Nationals have not ruled the possibility out. But it seems more likely that he will return to Nationals next season than this one.
Different pitchers move through the recovery stages at different speeds. But it took Zimmermann 157 days from the time he first threw off the mound to his first major league starts. In 157 days from today, the regular season will have been over for two weeks.
“We could say, ‘We’ll go at his pace.’ He’d already be throwing off the mound in spring training. He’d want to pitch,” McCatty said. “So it’s not always his pace. That’s the tough thing. But you just can’t be in a hurry. There’s no reason to try and push it. Would it be nice if he got a couple innings this year? Sure. Will he? Can’t say for sure. We’ll see how it goes. I’m not going to get optimistic about it until, ‘Okay, now he’s throwing. He’s starting his rehab [starts].’ When we get to that point, then I’ll say okay. But we’re not there yet.”
Strasburg is currently in the most difficult part of his rehab, the one that most resembles drudgery. He’s been doing roughly the same activities since spring training, and he has to watch his teammates from Viera, Fla. while working mostly alone. McCatty said he has fought the boredom by taking a new hobby: bass fishing.
“He said he’s no better at fishing,” McCatty said. “He told me about catching something on top water. He took it under, and he had it, but he spit it, and it was a monster. I said, ‘I’ve been there and done that, too.’ He’s in good spirits.”