Nationals Notebook

Zimmermann Faces Surgery on His Elbow

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ATLANTA, Aug. 10 -- In a sudden setback to a career and a rebuilding effort, Jordan Zimmermann, the Washington Nationals' top homegrown pitching prospect, will soon undergo ligament-replacement surgery on his right elbow, missing between 12 to 18 months. On Monday, orthopedist James Andrews reviewed an MRI of the rookie right-hander's elbow and confirmed the opinion of Washington team doctor Wiemi Douoguih.

Zimmermann, 23 -- whom acting general manager Mike Rizzo called "such an important part of our franchise" -- had been on the disabled list since July 23 with what was originally described as right elbow soreness. But that prognosis, within the last week, became more serious when Zimmermann continued to feel pain after a Tuesday rehab start with Class A Potomac.

The Nationals, seeking a third opinion about treatment, have sent Zimmermann's MRI results to Los Angeles-based doctor Lewis Yocum. "But we're not expecting anything different," Rizzo said. "We're just doing our due diligence." After Yocum looks at the MRI on Tuesday and assuming he concurs, the Nationals will determine the time and place of the surgery.

In 16 starts this year, Zimmermann -- a 2007 second-round pick -- had a 3-5 record and a 4.63 ERA.

"He's one of the top young rookie pitchers in baseball," Rizzo said. "He has all the makings of a No. 1 starter in the big leagues. This certainly delays what he's gonna be. But hopefully he'll be one of the 85 to 88 percent that recovers to pre-Tommy John [surgery] form."

If Zimmermann recovers, he'll be available to begin the 2011 season. Though Washington has assembled a cadre of young pitchers -- the emphasis of its franchise-building blueprint -- Zimmermann already has distinguished himself. He had a fastball in the mid-90s and true ace potential, something Washington's other pitchers lack. Zimmermann's injury heightens the conundrum facing an organization that now has six days to sign No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg. With Zimmermann gone, the team needs Strasburg more than ever. Zimmermann's injury, however, provides an unsettling reminder about the tenuous nature of pitching arms, and investing therein.

Rizzo emphasized that Washington took a cautious approach with Zimmermann, keeping him in the minors this year until late April, and planning all along to limit him to 160 innings.

"To me, his injury, it's better than the labrums and the rotator cuffs -- those sorts of injuries, the kind that you don't have great treatment for," Rizzo said.

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