The Washington Nationals would like to go into the 2013 season without having to worry about the health of their pitchers. In the past three seasons, Washington has had to deal with injuries to starters and relievers that have led to operations, rehabilitation stints, innings counts and questions on how the team has handled its young arms.
It all started in 2009 when starting pitcher Jordan Zimmerman suffered an elbow injury which led to Tommy John surgery. The right hander spent 2010 in the minor leagues rehabbing before being called up in September and finishing the season with the big league club. Zimmerman returned to the starting rotation in 2011 and was put on a 160 inning pitch count by Nationals brass. In 2012, he pitched a complete season going 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA.
In 2010, Washington saw the ace of their staff, Stephen Strasburg, injure his elbow in August. Like Zimmerman, Strasburg had Tommy John surgery and spent 2011 rehabbing in the minors before being called up in September. In 2012, Strasburg was put on the same 160 innings limit that Zimmerman had the year before and pitched into September. Strasburg went 15-8 with a 3.16 ERA and helped the Nationals to their first NL East pennant.
While Zimmerman’s pitching 160 innings drew little or no attention, Strasburg’s shutdown did. In 2011, the Nationals had no chance of making the playoffs and not a soul outside of Washington cared whether Zimmerman pitched or not. In 2012, the Nationals had a chance to win it all so Strasburg’s shutdown drew criticism. It was believed that Washington was babying Strasburg and hurting their chances of winning a championship.
In 2013, both Zimmerman and Strasburg will be healthy and there will be no talk of innings counts.
Nationals starting pitchers are not the only ones who have suffered major injuries.
In July of 2011, reliever Cole Kimball suffered a torn rotator cuff injury to his right shoulder which required surgery. Kimball began throwing again in June of 2012, but suffered a torn lat muscle which shelved him until August. He was healthy enough to pitch in the Arizona Fall League and hopes to rejoin the big club by the end of 2013.
Washington’s projected closer going into 2012, Drew Storen, suffered an elbow injury in spring training which put him on the disabled list. He did not join the Nationals staff until July. After getting off to a rocky start, Storen regained the closers role from Tyler Clippard in time for the post season. Storen is expected to battle Clippard in spring training.
In the past three years, Washington has had to deal with injuries to four young pitchers that they have high hopes for. All of them seem to be healthy again and on the way back.
If they are, then the Nationals may finally get through a season without having to worry about surgeries, rehab assignments and innings counts.