Their arms gave out on them at roughly the same time and because of that, pitchers Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals and Kris Medlen of the Atlanta Braves will be linked forever. Both Strasburg and Medlen underwent Tommy John surgery after suffering right elbow injuries in August of 2010.
The protocol that each organization is using in their recovery is being watched closely by everyone.
When Strasburg and Medlen went under the knife in 2010, no one knew when or if either would ever return to the form which made them top prospects. Strasburg was 21 years old and in his first MLB season. Medlen was 24 and a budding star. Both started the long road to recovery with the hope of being able to pitch in 2012. While they went through intense rehab, Washington and Atlanta management went about setting up plans to get them back to full strength.
Each team’s plans were similar in 2011, as Strasburg and Medlen spent most of their time in the minor leagues. It was in 2012 where they differed, and experts began to debate as to whose strategy was better.
The discussions became intense when it was obvious that both the Nationals and Braves were going to play in October. The Nationals would do it without Strasburg, and took a beating from the baseball press for the way he was handled. Meanwhile, the Braves went into post season play with Medlen, and were hailed as geniuses in their handling of him.
In the end, neither team won a championship, but both may have been right in how they handled their star pitchers.
Washington management, led by general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson, had decided before the season began that they would not let Strasburg throw more than 160 innings. Atlanta had a similar plan with Medlen. However, Strasburg began the season in the starting rotation, and stayed there until he had pitched 159 1/3 innings. Medlen began the year in the bullpen, and did not become a regular starter until August. This allowed him to pitch only 138 innings and made him available for post-season play, while Strasburg was shut down in September by the Nationals.
Medlen did pitch in the post season, and lost a wildcard playoff game to the St. Louis Cardinals. Washington, without Strasburg, lost to the Cardinals in the NL Divisional Series. Though both pitchers’ seasons ended in frustration, the most important thing was that neither suffered any setbacks and both are healthy going into 2013.
The Nationals and Braves will battle to win the East again this season. Both teams have improved, and are capable of winning 100 games. This would not be the case without Strasburg and Medlen. Each seems healthy and ready to resume careers which began with great promise.
Eventually, Strasburg and Medlen will pitch in some of the biggest games of the MLB season. Each man will be watched closely as their comebacks from Tommy John surgery progress.