In early stages of recovery, Strasburg's staying positive

Stephen Strasburg had reconstructive elbow surgery Sept. 3. "With the track record . . . you have to be patient with it," he said.
Stephen Strasburg had reconstructive elbow surgery Sept. 3. "With the track record . . . you have to be patient with it," he said. (Jonathan Newton)
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In terms of his physical health, Stephen Strasburg is about where you would expect someone to be less than four weeks after reconstructive elbow surgery and two weeks since the cast came off.

He has a long, thin scar on the inside of his elbow. He can't do much more than some light range-of-motion and core-strengthening exercises. He is staring at perhaps another three months before he can pick up a baseball, perhaps another eight beyond that until he can resume his career as the Washington Nationals' top pitcher.

But what came across most strikingly in Strasburg's first public comments since his Sept. 3 surgery was how good he sounded - as resolute and feisty as ever, without a tinge of regret, remorse or self-pity.

"I'm chalking this year up as a great success," Strasburg, 22, said in a 15-minute conference call with media members Tuesday afternoon from his San Diego home. "It's unfortunate for this to happen. But . . . I stirred up the baseball world well enough to have more people become Nats fans. And I know they're going to be there when I come back in a year."

True to his midseason form, Strasburg revealed little about his post-surgical life, other than the fact he has begun taking classes at San Diego State University, working toward the undergraduate degree he abandoned after his junior year when the Nationals made him the No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 draft and signed him to a record-setting $15.1 million contract. He watches the Nationals on television. He is having some "baseball withdrawal."

How is his recovery going? "Real well," he said. How does he feel? "Real good." There isn't much more to say. He has yet to begin the actual rehabilitation process, but he will do so as soon as the Nationals' medical staff and his doctors tell him it is time.

"With the track record of this surgery, you have to be patient with it," said Strasburg, who blew out his elbow on Aug. 21 in Philadelphia. "As long as you don't rush things, the success rate is through the roof.

"I'm going to be patient and do what the trainers and doctors tell me to do, and take it by the book. . . . What they're telling me is, the more boring it is, the better. The first few months, it's about letting the new ligament heal and naturally recovering."

The same competitive edge that had teammates and coaches calling him a "gamer" and a "bulldog" on the mound during his 10 weeks in the big leagues - which resulted in a 5-3 record, a 2.91 ERA and more hype than any rookie has received in baseball history - revealed itself when Strasburg was asked whether he was watching Monday night as the Philadelphia Phillies clinched their division title at Nationals Park, and what his reaction was.

"It didn't look too good, that's for sure," Strasburg said. "It happens. But you know, we could very well be doing that the next two years on their home turf. It'd be nice to have some payback."

Strasburg has become notorious with the Nationals' brain trust for being impossible to get on the phone, and for not returning calls. ("He always calls you back during the game," Manager Jim Riggleman said Tuesday, half-jokingly. "That way he knows you're not going to pick up. I've stopped calling him.") But perhaps not surprisingly, the one person who is known to have had a lengthy conversation with him is the man who signs the checks: majority owner Ted Lerner.

"They had a great conversation just a week ago," said Mark Lerner, the owner's son. "He's very positive about his comeback."

Rather than looking at the entirety of the lengthy, grueling task ahead of him - it is possible he won't pitch again in the majors until 2012 - Strasburg is focusing on each baby step, trusting that each new day brings him closer to a return. The Nationals have mapped out his entire rehab process - right down to a tentative return date - but he revealed none of its details.

"If I'm doing well, things could get sped up," he said. "There is a target date, but right now it's way too early [to talk about it]. It is a tough process, but I keep telling myself as each day goes by, I'm getting closer to being back out there battling and winning games."

Staff writers Adam Kilgore and Rick Maese contributed to this report.

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