by Rick Snider

Go ahead – exhale.

Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg doesn’t need a second Tommy John surgery after sucking the air out of Nationals Park on Wednesday when leaving with pain near his elbow.

That’s good news because a second such surgery would have left Strasburg’s career in doubt. But just months after the Nats re-signed Strasburg for $175 million, they’re not having a dumpster fire sale.

Strasburg has a flexor mass strain. When he’ll return remains uncertain. The normal recovery takes several weeks. Maybe Strasburg making the playoffs in October is the public line.

But let’s be serious – general manager Mike Rizzo has been overly cautious with the 2009 first overall selection through the years, including 2012 when withholding him from the playoffs because of an innings limit caused by 2010 Tommy John surgery. Strasburg opened 14-0 this season before a few rough outings led to the 15-day disabled list. And just three-plus innings into his return, Strasburg walked off the mound.

Bottom line – there’s no way Rizzo’s risking Strasburg after previous restraints, especially now that Washington must pay the pitcher $175 million guaranteed. If Strasburg returned and blew out his arm, Rizzo would be on the next ice flow to the Artic powered by Nats owners.

No, the Nats will have to play without Strasburg in the postseason and that seriously diminishes their chances. With three standout starters – Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark and Strasburg, not many teams could beat them in the playoffs. But with just two, things are much more evenly matched. Maybe the Nats don’t go into their traditional postseason slump and survive the Los Angeles Dodgers, maybe even the Chicago Cubs, but the odds would sure be better with Strasburg.

On the up side, at least Strasburg doesn’t need Tommy John surgery again. That would pretty much mean not playing next season and maybe ever again. He might even have needed to become the most expensive reliever in history, though Strasburg’s not wired for ninth-inning shutdowns.

Instead, Strasburg enters another five months of uncertainty until tossing the ball in spring training again. He’ll feel good, but the bottom line on Strasburg is he’s always going to have aches and pains. At 28-years old, he has not turned into a 20-game winner much less the second coming of Cy Young. He’s not Tom Seaver or Nolan Ryan, just a pretty good pitcher with moments of brilliance.

The real shame is Strasburg finally seemed ready to match lofty expectations since arriving with a 14-strikeout appearance in 2010. Strasburg is 15-4 this season, matching his 15 wins in 2012. He’s 69-41 overall with a 3.19 earned run average. Not exactly great numbers, but then Ryan was 69-69 in his first six seasons before winning 324 over his 27-year career.

The bottom line is the Nats once more need patience with Strasburg. They have no choice given that long-term deal. Meanwhile, there’s another game to play and another postseason to approach without him.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter @Snide_Remarks.


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