Stephen Strasburg shutdown controversy: Expert says ending season is right call

Strasburg's supposed innings limit falls between 160 and 180 innings this season. He has thrown 145.1. Photo: Associated Press

After taking two of three games from the Atlanta Braves earlier this week, the Washington Nationals now have a six-game lead on their division rival at the top of the National League East. The team's sights are set on the franchise's first trip to the playoffs since 1981.

However, as the race for the pennant continues, all eyes in the baseball world continue to be on Stephen Strasburg's surgically-repaired right elbow. And as the debate rages over whether it's the correct decision to shut the 24-year-old pitcher down before the end of the season, a local surgeon says that the choice to end his season early is the right one.

In an appearance on NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt on NewsChannel 8 on Thursday, Dr. Scott Edwards, a surgeon at Georgetown University Medical Center, says that the appropriate medical decision is to hold the Nationals' standout righty to his inning limit.

"They're not slowing him down, but they are restricting the amount of play, and that's the right thing to do," Edwards said. "We have to think long term with this."

Edwards has not operated on or treated Strasburg, who underwent Tommy John surgery during his 2010 rookie season after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament that summer. He missed nearly the entire 2011 season while rehabilitating the injury.

However, Strasburg has been nearly lights-out in 2012, going 15-5 for the first-place Nationals, posting a 2.85 earned-run average and recording 183 strikeouts. During his last start, an Aug. 21 4-1 victory over Atlanta, Strasburg struck out 10 across 6 innings.

That inning count, though, is what will eventually limit him this season and lead to the end of his pitching this year. No official inning limit has been established, the team continues to insist, but most observers peg that number between 160 and 180 innings of work. Strasburg has thrown 145.1 innings so far this season.

Edwards says that despite the chances for the team to make a deep playoff run and the benefits of keeping Strasburg in the rotation, shutting him down is the right thing to do.

"This kind of reconstructive surgery, anywhere in the body, is not like taking the car in," Edwards said. "You have to have a maturation process. It can last a year or two while (the elbow) is learning how to deal with the forces on it."

An elbow expert in his own right, Edwards says that many young athletes come to him asking for the surgery at the slightest hint of an elbow injury, thinking that Tommy John will make them a better pitcher. He says that's simply a myth, despite the terrific recovery that many Major League pitchers, including Strasburg, have made.

"It's just not true," Edwards said. "The myth comes from the fact that there's intensive attention made to the mechanics of the throw (after surgery). It's a good surgery, but it won't make you a better pitcher."

Many fans and pundits have called on the Nationals to perhaps rest Strasburg down the stretch and reactivate him when the team begins a potential playoff run. That's something Edwards says he'd lean against, if he were making the decision.

"What's done is done. He has been stressing it and he will need time to rest it and allow the reconstruction to get stronger for the next year."