Stephen Strasburg has his first rehab start today since injuring his elbow and undergoing reconstructive surgery. He is scheduled to throw two innings, his first step in a potential 2011 return to the Major Leagues. Today’s stop in Hagerstown, Pennsylvania is the first stop on a tour that will ultimately decide Strasburg’s fate.
Like so many pitchers before him, Strasburg sits, teetering ever so gently, on the edge of a fence. The problem with this fence is it would seem the person sitting on it has little choice in what side he lands. After an incredible, odds-defying, start to his career, Stephen Strasburg tore his Ulnar Collateral Ligament in his right elbow, ending his season and sending him into the purgatory that is Tommy John surgery.
Dontrelle Willis, Mark Wohlers, and Rick Ankiel were in a different class and different situation. These were pitchers with incredible talent who seems to have simply lost it through mental issues. Strasburg is not at risk of falling into this category. However, he is at risk of falling into another, equally frightening, category.
On one side of Straburg’s fence is a career filled with continued success. On the other side, he may find diminished talent, demotions to the bullpen, and even the end of his career. Strasburg hopes to fall on the same side as Chris Carpenter, Josh Johnson, John Smoltz, David Wells, Tim Hudson, and Tommy John himself. These pitchers, who underwent the same surgery as Strasburg, should serve as Strasburg’s inspiration, as the ones who made it back to their full potential and even better in some cases. But then there’s the other half.
Pitchers like Kerry Wood, Mike Hampton, B.J. Ryan, and Scott Williamson provide a cautionary tale to the overly optimistic outlook on Tommy John surgery. These pitchers never made it back to their dominant selves. They continued to play in the shadows of their lost potential.
As Stephen Strasburg pitches in his first live game in almost a year, the baseball world will hold its breath. Strasburg is good for baseball, great for baseball actually, and a comeback to the dominance we saw for a few fleeting months at the back end of 2010 is something we are all hoping for.
Strasburg will continue to sit on the fence, never fully knowing which side he will fall until he makes his return to the Nationals starting rotation. And as he sits, and as we watch each rehab pitch on his way back, we can only hope the wind blows in his favor and sends him to the right side of the fence.