About five years ago, whenever someone uttered the phrase “Tommy John surgery”, it made the baseball world cringe. The Washington Nationals are now proving that what used to be a career death sentence can now be just the opposite.
A number of notable pitchers in recent history have undergone the procedure including A.J. Burnett, Chris Carpenter, Ben Sheets, Adam Wainwright, Stephen Strasbrug and Jordan Zimmermann.
Sunday’s gem by SStrasburg is proof that Tommy John surgery is no longer something to be feared. While it may force a player to miss a considerable amount of time, it isn’t something that will end their career. The past two seasons for fellow Nationals pitcher Zimmermann have been proof of that as well.
One of the main reasons why both have recovered so well is the way their rehab was handled by the organization. Both pitchers were put on an innings limit and were monitored very closely by the training staff throughout their first season back.
Along with any great rehab plan, you have to have people who are willing to stick to it, and the Nationals have that in general manager Mike Rizzo. Despite everyone in the media room calling for Strasburg to pitch into the playoffs and past his limit, Rizzo held firm in his plan and shut him down. Once the Nationals were eliminated, many pointed to that move as the team’s killer, but Rizzo held firm in his belief that he handled the situation right.
In D.C., this plan is currently being executed again as we speak. Pitcher Taylor Jordan is in the midst of his first season back from Tommy John surgery and is expected to be shut down later this month. He’s on an innings limit that ranges from 130-155 and is on the low-end of that spectrum.
As long as teams have a game plan for recovery and stick to it as the Nationals have done, Tommy John surgery becomes nothing more than an a long-term, but recoverable, injury. In the past, we have actually seen pitchers come back better than before since they have a fresh ligament instead of one that has deteriorated.
For the Nationals, handling their Tommy John surgery victims is only setting themselves up for future success. While this season has been a flop, it hasn’t been because of the starting pitching. The way they handled Strasburg’s and Zimmermann’s recovery has put them in a position to be contenders for seasons to come.