Back in early August of 2011, when the conversation about Stephen Strasburg's recovery from Tommy John surgery concerned whether or not he was being brought back too quickly following the procedure which repaired the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right (pitching) elbow, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo appeared on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. to discuss the plan for the then-23-year-old right-hander:
Mike Rizzo: "Stephen, his progression is going to be dictated on how he feels before, during and after he pitches. He's on Dr. [Lewis] Yocum and Dr. Weimi Douoguih and Lee Kuntz's rehabilitation plan from Tommy John surgery. The same plan that Dr. Yocum has used many, many times before, the same plan that we've used with Jordan Zimmermann and others before. And it will be dictated on how he feels. How the ball comes out of his hand. How he feels the day after. How he feels two days after when he throws a side. And then we'll take it from there."
A year later, as Stephen Strasburg's 2012 campaign wound down, the Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick's agent appeared on ESPN Radio's the Mike and Mike Show and explained to the hosts that the Nationals and the pitcher were proceeding with a plan based on the medical advice of the surgeon who performed the surgery on Strasburg's elbow:
"He puts his [career] in the [hands] of a doctor," [Scott] Boras said, "A doctor that has saved his career. He must follow his advice. He knows the protocols. He knows what the doctors say and obviously when you're looking into this they've done the research and Stephen, like general managers, like attorneys for players, we're not doctors. We have to follow medical advice."
When the decision to finally shut Strasburg down was made this past weekend after 28 starts and 159.1 IP, the Nationals' GM explained that though he and his manager and pitching coach factored in the pressure the pitcher was under with the intense media scrutiny over their plan, the ultimate decision was still based on medical advice. "I think the accumulation of the focus problems and the physical fatigue I think took its toll on him," Rizzo told reporters, "and I think that what the doctors had prescribed for him, the innings parameters were right on and I think it was a prudent time to pull the plug and it was a plan we had from February 1st so I don't think too many people should be surprised by it."
"The reality of it is is that when you go through these procedures, you’ve placed your career in the hands of a medical practitioner that you trust," Scott Boras told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Mike Wise in a mid-August interview, "And the great news is that Dr. Yocum’s advice, counsel and surgical expertise have returned Stephen back to his normal self."
Strasburg himself admitted, in an interview transcribed by the Washington Times' Tom Schad, that in spite of his anger with the decision to shut him down and his resistance to ending his season prematurely, he knew as he explained that even though he didn't like it the decision was based on medical advice. "'I'm not too happy about it.,'" Strasburg said, "'I want to keep pitching out there. But as of right now, I think I've got some world renowned doctors, one of them Dr. (Lewis) Yocum, he resurrected my career. I gotta listen to him and I gotta trust him.'"
So of course it comes as something of a surprise to some that the oft-mentioned Dr. Yocum told the LA Times' Bill Shaikin, as quoted in an article published this afternoon, that he did not tell the Nationals to shut Strasburg down. "'I wasn’t asked,' Dr. Lewis Yocum told the Los Angeles Times." Dr. Yocum goes on to say that he hasn't spoken to D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, "... since last year and had not talked with Strasburg since spring training." Had he been asked he tells Mr. Shaikin, "... he would not have been able to provide conclusive information about whether Strasburg’s long-term health would be best served by shutting him down."
"'There’s no statistic as far as studies,'" Dr. Yocum tells the LA Times' reporter. As for the pitcher whose recovery was often cited as the template for the plan with Strasburg, Mr. Shaikin wrote that Dr. Yocum, "... noted that Rizzo set his own standard with Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann." The plan the Nationals went with this season with Strasburg was based on, "... process — and not any medical directive," Dr. Yocum told Mr. Shaikin.
"'It’s based on Mike’s experience,' Yocum said. 'Mike is extremely confident. His track record speaks for itself. Zimmermann did extremely well.'"
It wasn't a medical directive, but the plan the Nationals went with was based on the best medical advice available according to the Nats' GM, Strasburg's agent and the pitcher himself. Was Dr. Yocum asked directly about the decision to end Strasburg's season last Saturday? Apparently not. Does that contradict all that's been said before? I'm not so sure it does.
Dr. Yocum did, of course, tell a USA Today reporter Jorge L. Ortiz back in an August 16th article that he thought the Nationals were taking a "prudent" approach. "Lewis Yocum, the surgeon who operated on Strasburg, said the team is taking a prudent course considering the increased incidence of pitchers who require a second Tommy John procedure." Qualifications and additional comments are sure to follow. Davey Johnson's hope that the announcement that Strasburg's season was over would end the chatter... Sorry Davey.