Stephen Strasburg out for the season, maybe more

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Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 27, 2010; 1:00 PM

Rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg will "probably" miss at least one year and perhaps the entire 2011 baseball season after undergoing Tommy John surgery to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, General Manager Mike Rizzo said.

Washington Post staff writer Dave Sheinin was online Friday, Aug. 27, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the news and what it means to the Nats.

Listen to Dave's audio breakdown of what this means for the Nats.

The transcript follows.


Washington, D.C.: Was Boswell right last year when he argued that it is unwise to draft a pitcher so high?

Dave Sheinin: Thanks for joining us, everyone. I don't know that there's a correct answer here. Yeah, Boz was correct in pointing out the checkered history of pitching phenoms, and the long history of arm injuries to hard-throwing pitchers. But if Strasburg sits out 2011, then goes on to have a Hall-of-Fame career, would it still be a mistake? I'm not saying that will happen, but I think what's really unwise is leapign to conclusions about the rest of Strasburg's career based on this. Tommy John surgery is commonplace and comes with a very high degree of success.


In Mourning, MD: Not fair!!!!!

Dave Sheinin: Word.


Service time: Dave, do we know whether Strasburg's service time clock will continue to click if he misses the entire season in 2011?

And what do you think this means in terms of the team's plans with Dunn? If no Strasburg next year, they really don't have a great shot at the postseason. You have to let Dunn walk, right? (Do you at least offer him arbitration to get the draft picks?)

Dave Sheinin: Need to check to make sure, but I believe players on the 60-day DL do continue to accrue service time.

As for Dunn, this changes the equation somewhat -- 2011 no longer looks like a "go for it" year. Will that affect how the Nationals look at first base? I think it might.


DC Downer today:: What does this do to the Sheinin book deal on the Phenom? add drama? delay the publication until the second coming?

Dave Sheinin: I appreciate the question, but I'm not going there. This isn't about me today.


L'Enfant Plaza: Is there ANYTHING the Nationals could have done to catch this condition earlier???

Dave Sheinin: Honestly, I don't think so. The baseline MRI (taken before they signed him) was "pristine," to use Rizzo's term. They were conservative with his development -- almost to the point of absurdity. Someone might say the shoulder stiffness in July may have altered the "kinetic chain" and caused a compensation in his delivery that affected the elbow. But that's highly speculative, and the Nationals were very conservative in the way they brought him back from the type of injury (if you can call it that) that pitchers pitch through all the time.


Adams Morgan: In a best case scenario, Strasburg comes back eventually, and is as good or better than he was before.

But do the Nats have to eat one year of their contract? Will he be eligable for free agency the same year, regardless?

I'm sure the answer to both questions is yes, but what a bummer.

Dave Sheinin: Basically, yes.


Bethesda, MD: What happens if the second opinion differs from the first? How will it be resolved?

Dave Sheinin: The second opinion will not differ from the first.


Cap Hill, DC: I am reminded of the scene from Aliens after the marines' ship crashes and they are stranded.

Hudson says . . .

Well that's great, that's just f-----' great, man. Now what the f--- are we supposed to do? We're in some real pretty s--- now man...

Dave Sheinin: I think I can go ahead and publish this... right?


Severna Park: Considered what happen with John Patterson and Shawn Hill and their forearm troubles, isn't this somewhat good news? I mean, TJ surgery has extended many careers and it happened now, instead of in the middle of a pennant race, right? Am i grasping an straws to find a positive here?

Dave Sheinin: No, there's some truth here. Plenty of pitchers have had this early in their careers and gone on to greatness. Look at how Francisco Liriano, to name one, is pitching this year.


Washington DC: Will this put somewhat of a stopper on the calls for $50 or $25 million contracts because college or high school player "will be the greatest player since Walter Johnson-Warren Spahn-Lefty Grove combined, and Babe Ruth-Ty Cobb-Stan Musial combined?

Dave Sheinin: This really only pertains to pitchers. Obviously, position players get hurt, too. But there is nothing about their specific job descriptions that causes injury the same way repeatedly throwing a baseball 90-100 mph does. Even so, Strasburg will be worth his $15.1 million to the Nationals, and then some, if he comes back from this and does what he's supposed to do from 2012-16.


Washington, D.C.: What IS IT with this current generation? What would Mickey Lolich, Nolan Ryan, and Steve Carlton say about this? Why are so many pitchers since about 1995 breaking down this way?

Dave Sheinin: Three possible explanations: 1) Pitchers now grow up pitching year-round (in warm-climate states), and all those innings add up. 2) We have better diagnostic methods (MRIs, et al.) to catch these injuries. 3) With the explosion of media, we know about many more instances than we did 20, 30 or 40 years ago.


Dibble?: Anybody heard from him since the news came out?

Dave Sheinin: Not that I've seen.


DC: Besides not seeing Stephen pitch for 12 to 18 months, it will also mean no more Sheinin in game chats. Talk about collateral damage.

Dave Sheinin: Thanks, I guess.


Who is doing the surgery??: Please tell me it is Dr. Andrews.

Dave Sheinin: Dr. Lewis Yocum in LA. Very well renowned and experienced.


Gutting It Out: Don't Dibble and Bunning look pretty foolish? Good riddance to both. No, wait, I can't vote against Bunning. Too bad.

Dave Sheinin: If and when Dibble comes back on the air, it will be an uncomfortable moment for him. Bunning is another story.


Washington, D.C.: First of all, let me just say that as a Portland Trailblazers fan, I'm sympathetic. While we still have high hopes for Greg Oden and believe he can be very good, there's no longer the expectation that he'll be a once-in-a-generation kind of player.

What I don't get is how this could still happen to Strasburg after the team was so incredibly (ludicrously) cautious with him. I can't recall any other top rookie in any sport being treated so delicately, as if the team had been asked to hold a Faberge Egg or handed an infant for the first time.

Dave Sheinin: Just goes to show you that you can do everything absolutely correct, and this can still happen.


Washington, D.C.: This, to me, raises are larger question about the Nats: are both the fans and the media too accepting of Rizzo and the Lerners? I never hear anyone criticize this team, no matter how many games they lose.

Dave Sheinin: If you don't hear (or read) any criticism, you're not paying attention.


Stras: You've studied the kid more than almost anybody not named Gwynn, Boras, Rizzo or Wifey. What do you think is going through his mind today?

Dave Sheinin: You know what? I completely believe what Rizzo said. He was probably devastated, but then he probably slept on it, came to terms with it, and put his mind to conquering it. If a kid can turn himself from "Slothburg" to The Phenom in one year at SDSU, he can come back from this.


Reston: Although Strasburg will miss 2011, even 2012 will be a lost year because he'll likely be limited in terms of innings, correct? It seems like a lot of starters recovering from Tommy John surgery spend at least some time in the bullpen their first season back.

Dave Sheinin: There will be limitations at first, yes. (Witness Jordan Zimmermann's five-inning limit.) But they will slowly be eased, and may not take an entire year.


Chicago IL: Didn't White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper basically predict this would happen? He saw the same flaws in Strasburg's mechanics that were in Mark Prior's and Kerry Wood's.

Dave Sheinin: Cooper was speaking specifically about the shoulder. And Prior has never had major elbow issues -- just shoulder. Wood has had elbow (Tommy John), but basically, I'm saying you can ignore all of those quotes and all that history. This is totally different.


Oswalt: Steve Phillips was right!!!

Dave Sheinin: There are a lot of people who are going to be saying they were right all along. But this isn't a death knell. I fully expect us to be back here in 2012 (ok, maybe 2013), talking about how great Strasburg is.


Woodbridge VA: After all the hype and excitement, the kid's career is over before it begins? Will he forgo any salary to sit out a year?

Dave Sheinin: Dead wrong. And no.


D Street: Is the 5 day pitching schedule to blame?

Dave Sheinin: No. There are hundreds of pitchers on the same schedule with no arm problems.


Round Hill, Va: Hasn't history shown us that 100mph is the 'breaking point' in terms of what a human can throw before inevitably breaking down? The books are littered with guys who had blazing fastballs but their bodies gave out after a short period of time.

I hope Strasburg is the exception, but at some point don't GMs have to take this into account?

Dave Sheinin: Yes, sort of. There are outliers (Nolan Ryan comes to mind). But when you start thinking about all the guys who throw (or threw) 100 mph... Wohlers, Zumaya, Billy Wagner, etc... they all seem to break down eventually.


Washington DC: Couldn't you argue the other way on Dunn? You need some reason to put fans in the seats next year. Ryan Zimmerman alone is not enough.

Dave Sheinin: Absolutely, there are good arguments on either side. All I was saying earlier is that this changes the equation somewhat.


Timing of the news: Is Strasburg going to be around the team, or is he going to hide out? It said a lot about Chipper Jones, I thought, that he was back in the dugout a day after having his knee operation.

Dave Sheinin: Remains to be seen. He'll probably do most of his actual rehabbing in Viera, but that's still a long ways away. I'm pretty sure we'll see him again around the team before the year is through.


Fairfax: What were Strasburg's pitch counts like at SDSU?

Dave Sheinin: Very reasonable. Typically 100-110. An occasional 120+ (such as during his 23-strikeout game).


Lost to history: are the many pitchers before Tommy John who had this type of injury. Not quite as bad as a horse with a broken leg, but a career ender. These days through modern sports medicine full recovery is nearly certain. Just gonna have to suck on it and like it.

Dave Sheinin: Right.


Dibble: He's taking a lot of flack for what he said but I think he would be interesting to hear from right now because he blew out his arm and tried to come back and couldn't.

Dave Sheinin: I agree. Dibble would have some valuable perspective on this.


In a Nutshell: The World is Ending!!! But really, why should we be optimistic given the complete and utter inability of the Nationals to develope a top-line pitcher from the draft? Lannan is their greatest homegrown success to date. Maybe Storen or Zimmermann make it, but maybe they don't.

So 5 years of drafts, and you have... Lannan. And some guys with injuries or coming off injuries (Strasburg/ZNN). And Storen. Does the coaching/training/medical staff need to be revamped?

Dave Sheinin: Nope. Look at any organization deeply, and you will find dozens of blown-out elbows and shoulders. Can't say this any more clearly: Pitchers get hurt.


MD: Some ESPN doctor said the prospects are good for Strasburg to pitch next season sometime. He sounds like he knew what he was talking about... Is he a total outlier, or have you heard other people say Strasberg may be available for the some of next season?

Dave Sheinin: It typically takes 12-18 months after the surgery to make it back. If Stephen has the surgery tomorrow (not saying he will), he could return in Sept. 2011 (just as Zimmermann, who had surgery in Aug. 2009, returned in Aug. 2010).


Reston: Why do you think this seemingly popped up out of nowhere? Strasburg's pitch counts have been monitored. His innings last season weren't extreme since he didn't pitch after getting drafted. I just don't understand how this sort of thing can just happen.

Dave Sheinin: Here's one possible explanation: I've had several young pitchers tell me their bodies react differently to pitching in the majors, in relation to pitching at any other level. There's added adrenaline, which makes your body go at a higher gear. They've told me the next-day soreness, which is typical of any pitching situation, feels worse in the majors because of that.


Strasburg and the media: The good news such as it is: SS doesn't have to talk to you annoying reporters for a while!

Forgive me, but I'm trying to find something to laugh about right now. Not easy.

Dave Sheinin: Um, he didn't really talk to us to begin with, except for five minutes or so after each start.


DC: Zumaya's injuries though were related to an off-the-field issue where he was moving stuff, not pitching.

Dave Sheinin: I seem to recall him doing something weird to his hand or finger while throwing a bullpen. But he also had the issue with his shoulder that supposedly occurred when he was moving boxes or something.


Alexandria, VA: I was thinking about getting a #37 jersey tonight. In your opinion, is that still a wise decision?

Dave Sheinin: Yes.


Alexandria, VA: What's the 2011 rotation?

Lannan, Zimmermann, Marquis, Livo, and ...

Dave Sheinin: Maya.


Germantown, MD: I'm beginning to think all pitchers should automatically have the Tommy John surgery just before being called up to the majors, as a preventative measure....

Dave Sheinin: Many people have said the same thing, half-jokingly.


BBHoF Writer's Wing: Mr. Sheinin, we would like to request the belt and shoelaces that were taken from you this morning when you were placed on suicide watch for inclusion in an upcoming exhibit. We realize this is not as great an honor as was bestowed upon your illustrious predecessor Mr. Povich when he was inducted into our facility and had the Nationals Park Media Center named after him, but then again Stephen Strasburg is no Walter Johnson. Nevertheless we do hope you will consider our request. Best Regards.

Dave Sheinin: That's pretty good. Well done.


Lolich, Carlton etc.: History is littered with pitchers who "threw their arms out". They just didn't know what was wrong with them and couldn't fix it if they did.

Dave Sheinin: Exactly.


What did it?: He throws 100 mph, but he popped on a circle change, correct? Can we say with any certainty what caused this? Was it brewing for a long time, or was this the result of a single catastrophic pitch?

Dave Sheinin: It is believed the injury occurred on one pitch, and if so, it has to be the change-up to Domonic Brown on Saturday night. The way Strasburg reacted, it's pretty obvious.


Re: Service Time: Ignoring the sleaziness of such a move, could the Nats option Strasburg to the minors and put him on the minor league DL to prevent his service time from accruing?

Dave Sheinin: No, CBA rules don't allow for that sort of shady accounting.


TJ surgery survivors: Jaime Garcia, who will win the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

Chris Carpenter, ace (except against Desmond).

Tim Hudson, MLB Comeback Player of the Year.

Josh Johnson, potential 2010 National League Cy Young.

And a bunch of other all-stars (Brian Wilson, Andrew Bailey, Joakim Soria, Raf Soriano), ascending arms (Liriano, Marcum, CJ Wilson) and Hall of Famers (Smoltz).

Dave Sheinin: Yep.


Tommy John Surgery: Will we ever stop calling it Tommy John surgery ?? How many people today even know who Tommy John was ?

Dave Sheinin: I think we might have to start calling it Stephen Strasburg Surgery.


"They've told me the next-day soreness,..": "They've told me the next-day soreness, which is typical of any pitching situation, feels worse in the majors because of that.

Maybe this shows the Nationals and others teams, and maybe agents and players, that there might be value in playing in the minor leagues to become acclimated to a more professional baseball life.

Dave Sheinin: It doesn't matter. All of these pitchers pitched in the minors before getting to the big leagues. It's human nature. You have more adrenaline in the major leagues, and when you're a kid, you don't know how to manage it. It takes a greater toll on your body.


Atlanta, GA: Doesn't this pretty much blow out of the water all the ridiculous babying we see of pitchers these days? All the pitch counts, innings limits, etc.? All of this was done with Strasburg and he still tore a ligament. You see pitchers without these limits go through their career without a hitch - and then some end up having TJ surgery. It seems pretty random. This tells me that there is absolutely no basis in fact for all the pitch limits and late inning setup specialization roles we see today. Pitchers need to be pitching MORE innings, not less.

Dave Sheinin: I hear you, and I agree there is some disagreement about this. But there is still an accumulation affect. All the innings and all the pitches you throw in your lifetime add up. It is still generally accepted wisdom that you should limit young pitchers.


Richmond, Va: Simple question. How did they let him go this far with such obvious flaws in his pitching mechanics?? Even worse if that Tony Gwinn was his college manager and his mechanics should have been corrected long before he signed with the Nats. If his mechanics are not corrected he will blow out his new Tommy John ligament. I don't get it.

Dave Sheinin: You sound pretty confident in saying his mechanics are flawed. Are you a biomechanics expert? I can find experts who would say his mechanics are flawed, but I can find others who would say they are flawless. It's an area of study where there is vast disagreement.


NatsTown: Isn't Dibble due back in the booth tonight? I thought he had a 'self imposed' (wink wink) reprimand of 2 games, which makes him eligible again tonight?

Dave Sheinin: I think I heard he'd be back Saturday, but that's unofficial.

_______________________ Stick around folks. Boz will be chatting about Strasburg at 2:30. Keep an eye on our schedule for the link.


Arlington VA: Do you think SS's shoulder was still bothering him when he came of the DL and he didn't tell anyone. Seems possible that the elbow injury could be attributable to trying to pitch through some shoulder pain.

Dave Sheinin: This is a plausible theory -- but remember, they did an MRI and said it was clean. I think it's a reach to try to link the two. As I've said many times, this stuff simply happens.


Timetable: Is the timetable still 12 to 18 months? I think Tommy John needed about 18 months, but nowadays isn't it closer to 10-14 months? Tim Hudson had TJ surgery in August 2008 and was making rehab starts in July 2009.

Dave Sheinin: We say it's 12-18 months, but yeah, in practice it's more like 10-14.


Adams Morgan, USA: Looking on the bright side, this has got to mean that Dibble is finished in DC. Right?

Dave Sheinin: I honestly have no idea.


Down in DC: Wait a second. The Nats are saying they think the injury occurred on that one change-up pitch. And the change-up is one he didnt really develop until he came into the Nats system - they wanted him to throw it. He could have just thrown fastballs and curves. So how is the organization blameless?

Dave Sheinin: Are you saying they shouldn't have let him throw change-ups at all? I can't agree with that. Sorry.


Story idea: You or Kilgore or somebody else on staff should have TJ surgery and write a diary of your rehab.

Dave Sheinin: OK, I nominate Kilgore.

Sorry, folks, but I gotta run now. Thanks for the questions.


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