Thursday, February 10, 2011, 5:13 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
NATIONALS PAGE NATIONALS VIDEO
Stephen Strasburg has taken a crucial step in his long, slow recovery from Tommy John surgery. The Washington Nationals right-hander recently began throwing for the first time since wincing in pain upon throwing his final pitch in Philadelphia last August, a club official confirmed.
Strasburg, who has been rehabbing all winter near his home in San Diego, has only done some light throwing so far, playing catch on flat ground from a short distance. But performing that seemingly minor task five months after undergoing elbow ligament replacement surgery represents a significant milestone and puts the 22-year-old on a schedule that could see him pitching again in the major leagues in September.
Strasburg is due to report to spring training with the rest of Nationals pitchers and catchers next week, where he'll continue to slowly build up arm strength and stamina. He won't be permitted to throw off a bullpen mound or at full velocity for several months, but he'll participate in conditioning and fielding drills with the rest of the pitching staff.
Once the team breaks camp in late March, Strasburg will stay in Viera, Fla., continuing the rehab process into the summer. If all goes well, he could begin pitching in minor-league games in midsummer. That could set him up to be activated off the disabled list and make a few major-league starts in September before season's end.
All of this is subject to change and will depend entirely on how Strasburg progresses through each stage of the rehab process. To date, though, he's been on or ahead of schedule through the early steps of a highly regimented process that typically takes between 12 and 18 months to complete.
Strasburg's timeline has been very similar to teammate Jordan Zimmermann's progress one year ago. Zimmermann had Tommy John surgery in August 2009, began throwing shortly before spring training and returned to the majors on August 26.
Strasburg threw his final pitch August 21 in Philadelphia, after which he winced in pain. Tests the following week revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament, and Strasburg had the surgery performed September 3 in Southern California.
The Nationals will be cautious with their prize pitching prospect and won't hesitate to delay his return until 2012 if they have any concern about his readiness. But team officials do prefer Strasburg makes at least a couple of big-league starts in September, if he's deemed healthy.
Mark Zuckerman covers the Nationals full-time for CSNwashington.com. He also blogs about the team at natsinsider.com.