Look. We get it. Nobody really knows what the best thing is for Stephen Strasburg. We may guess, with some confidence, that the best thing for the Washington Nationals' championship chances would be having Strasburg in their pitching rotation for as long as the Nationals are alive. Beyond that, though? No one can say.
So let's not jump to conclusions. Even when an authority like Dr. James Andrews speaks:
A whole bunch of non-doctors have said that Mike Rizzo’s plan for Stephen Strasburg is absurd, ridiculous, pathetic, and many other haha- funny-we’re-tough-you’re-not words.
For Nats fans, though, none of that will be as convincing as the thoughts of Dr. James Andrews. Bear in mind, the famed orthopaedic surgeon did not perform Stephen Strasburg’s surgery, nor has he advised the team during his recovery. But Andrews was on ESPN Radio this week, and he backed the Nats’ decision.
A. I think it's a bit presumptuous to assume how convincing Nats fans will find the thoughts of Dr. James Andrews.
B. Andrews didn't back the Nats' decision as much as he declined to criticize it.
Here is what Andrews said:
"He’s such a young pitcher, such a tremendous talent, and I think prevention and being careful with these high-level pitchers is certainly admirable," Andrews said. "So I would certainly take up for the decision. And I don’t know first-hand -- there’s probably a lot of intangibles that helped them make that decision. But I don’t think you can criticize that one bit, to be honest with you.
That's sensible enough. But what else is Andrews going to say? Baseball teams pay him a great deal of money every year. If you were him, would you publicly criticize the golden goose? With so many eggs yet to come?
I'm not real bright, but even I know the right answer for that one.
All Andrews is really saying is that the Nationals should be careful with Stephen Strasburg, and I think Rob Dibble is the only primate on Earth who disagrees.
Andrews was asked what sort of advice he gives to pitchers coming back from Tommy John Surgery:
"Every pitcher’s a little different," Andrews said. "But everything we do when you have then return — all the way from the beginning of the throwing program at four months after surgery — is a step-by-step progression. So their workload has to be individualized, certainly through their first year back and generally through their second year back.
"And it depends on fatigue and how the medical staff and the pitching coach that are with him on a day-to-day basis determine their fatigue factors," Andrews said. "And...if there’s a question — should we push him or should we slow him down — then particularly up through the second year, the answer to the question is be on the conservative side and make the conservative decision, not the push decision to take him another step maybe beyond where they should go. That’s what we’ve learned, perhaps the hard way, when we try to bring these players back. But it’s all individualized."
Right. It's all individualized. And since Andrews hasn't been involved at all in the care and feeding of Stephen Strasburg, he's not really in a position to say anything specific about the wisdom and efficacy of the Nationals' handling of Stephen Strasburg.
Finally, Andrews was asked about the possibility of shutting down Strasburg "for some indeterminate period of time during the season," thus perhaps saving him for both the stretch run and the postseason ...
"The problem with shutting him down and getting him out of his cycle and then all of a sudden putting him back in, means you’ve got to recycle him," Andrews said. "In other words, you can’t take him at a high level, shut him down for a month and then get back immediately to a high level. That could be dangerous, also.
Hey, who said anything about shutting him down for a month?
This season, Chris Sale has gone 10, 11, and 9 days between starts. He's thrown 153 innings, and has an outside shot at the Cy Young Award. No, he's not coming off Tommy John Surgery. Yes, he might break down. But the notion that a pitcher can't be rested during the season and still pitch effectively just seems wrong, on its face.
Dr. James Andrews' comments on this subject are both interesting and informative. But they are not authoritative, nor are they meant to be. There might be some people with authoritative opinions -- the doctors who presumably are advising the Nationals' front office, for example -- but to this point, they're not talking.