Stephen Strasburg’s successful return all part of the plan

Now can we finally move past the angst over bringing Stephen Strasburg up to the majors in September, the worry that his elbow ligament was replaced with a Red Vine encased in uncooked rigatoni? I’m no doctor, and I don’t play one on TV, but he seemed just fine Tuesday night.

I never thought the Washington Nationals would rush Strasburg to the majors with absolutely nothing on the line except a desire to finish out of the cellar and somewhere in the ballpark of a .500 record. If he came up in September, it would be because he was ready.

And he was. He was no less than masterful in five innings against the Dodgers: 56 pitches, 40 for strikes. He was supposed to be pulled after four innings, but he was so economical with his pitches, they gave him another inning — and asked him to take over the Federal Reserve.

Could he have gone further? You bet. But the pitch count is the important number. Strasburg’s rehab is The Plan within The Plan, and love or hate The Plan, you know the Nats are committed to it.

After seeing Jordan Zimmermann’s comeback from the same Tommy John surgery that Strasburg underwent, fans should have had faith that the Nats knew what they were doing, at least as it pertains to pitchers’ arms. Yet some didn’t. So the naysayers nayed and the pooh-poohers . . . poohed, I guess.

Strasburg’s performance Tuesday night should put an end to that. And he did it without all the Strasmas hoopla, which was probably best for all concerned. The rain was partially responsible, but everyone seems to have matured since June 8 of last year, when Strasburg dominated the Pirates with 14 strikeouts in his major league debut. Fans treated the game as a big deal, but set aside the Justin Bieber concert-type frenzy. And Strasburg smiled.

He has a lot to smile about. Are his blazing fastball and sick changeup back to 2010 form? Not quite, perhaps, but very close. Yet he’s a better pitcher in some ways than he was a year ago. Those pitches may not be back to Strasburg levels, but a lot of major leaguers would rip out their own elbow tendons to get stuff like that. Davey Johnson might have had to slip Valium in Steve McCatty’s water bottle.

Strasburg is also a smarter pitcher than a year ago: He’s more willing to go for a grounder when a mighty whiff is elusive. Facing your own sports mortality will do that to you. I’m sure Strasburg had some dark days last summer when he wondered if he’d ever step on a major league mound again. He was always coachable, and rehab certainly didn’t change that.

Rehab also didn’t cool his fire. Strasburg was more than ready to go Tuesday night. The Nats felt he was more than ready as well. The Dodgers would say he was more than ready to go. Surely everyone else is convinced now.

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