(ed. note - "Now with 'light' editing. Sorry, for those who already read it.")
If all goes well in a throwing session this Thursday, the Washington Nationals' 09 no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg, who threw a 51-pitch simulated game on Tuesday, could make his first rehab start (throwing one or two innings) for the Hagerstown Suns on Sunday. Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson spoke to the press about the 23-year-old right-hander this morning before the Nationals dropped the series finale against the Braves. Florida Today writer Mark DeCotis did the counting on what turns out to be a 170-day rehabilitation following surgery to repair the "significant tear" of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, and Strasburg is now just one step away from returning to competitive play.
Strasburg's agent, Scott Boras, told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern this afternoon on Inside Pitch that fans will be seeing a much different Strasburg the first time they set eyes on him this weekend if he does indeed pitch in Hagerstown...
Scott Boras: "The thing about [Strasburg] right now that I think is going to be most talked about when he arrives back in the big leagues is his physical stature. He is really in a different place physically than he was a year ago. We've had the opportunity coupled with Washington's group and our sport fitness institute to get a year-round program for him on his core strength and leg strength and he is really physically stronger and bigger than he was a year ago. So, we're hoping that that strength and core strength is going to aid him in being certainly more efficient, stronger and durable as he returns."
Davey Johnson told reporters, as recorded by Washington Post writer James Wagner in a Nationals Journal post entitled, "Pending final hurdle, Stephen Strasburg to start in Hagerstown on Sunday", that if all goes as planned, Strasburg could be caught by a rehabbing Pudge Rodriguez on Sunday, and could eventually replace Jordan Zimmermann in the rotation if he's able to work his way back up for a few starts in the majors in September. "'I’ve kind of just put [Zimmermann] and [Strasburg] kind of in the same boat,'" the Nats' Skipper told reporters, "'Swap them out. When he’s down, he’ll start.'" Zimmermann, of course, is on a 160.0-inning limit in the first full-year back after he too had Tommy John surgery.
Strasburg will be returning to a mound for the Suns eight days short of a year from the day he injured his elbow in Philadelphia last season, bringing an end to a rookie campaign in which Strasburg himself said he "stirred up" the baseball world:
"I went up there, I stirred up the baseball world well enough that it had more people becoming Nats fans and I know they're going to be there when I come back in a year, so I'm not too worried about it and I'm going to work as hard as I possibly can to get back out there and show everybody what I have to bring to the table."
After one more step, the throwing session on Thursday, the right-hander who's reportedly already throwing in the mid-90's will almost assuredly be pitching in front of a packed house in Hagerstown on Sunday. If it's half as impressive as FloridaToday.com's Mr. DeCotis described Tuesday's simulated start which saw Strasburg, "throwing easily and freely...His fastball hummed, his breaking balls broke and his change-up was confounding," Nats fans can breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to a few September starts and a 2012 season in which the Nationals start making some noise with Strasburg and Zimmermann as a potent one-two punch atop the rotation. But first Thursday's session. Strasburg hasn't been rushed at any part of this process, when he's ready the baseball world will be waiting and watching. Til then, just watch this over and over...