Stephen Strasburg, meet Kerry Wood.
Wood, once the apple of major-league baseball's eye before having Tommy John surgery and settling into a life of mediocrity and disabled lists, could probably pass on some valuable advice to the Washington Nationals wiz kid. Like how to avoid going from sure-fire Hall of Famer to a bullpen afterthought.
Hard-throwing rookie righthander Strasburg, the phenom du jour, will likely undergo Tommy John surgery to replace a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo announced Friday during a conference call.
The 22-year-old is facing 12 to 18 months of rehab and an unknown future if he has the surgery, which involves replacing the damaged ligament with a tendon from another part of the body. The Nationals will decide if Strasburg should have the surgery after he gets a second opinion from California-based orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lewis Yocum, who performed Tommy John surgery on Washington pitcher Jordan Zimmermann.
"We feel there is a significant tear and there is going to be Tommy John surgery," Rizzo said during the conference call. "Lewis Yocum is one of the leading experts in this field. We are certainly going to listen to what he says, but I anticipate Stephen will have Tommy John surgery."
Nearly 200 big leaguers, including Wood in 1999, have had the surgery in the 36 years since it was first performed on then-Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John. The estimated success rate for a complete recovery is 85 to 92%.
Despite Strasburg's setback, which will likely lead to him missing the entire 2011 season, Rizzo is optimistic his future ace will return to form after the surgery.
"It's depressing, but I look at the brighter side," Rizzo said. "I look to Tommy John as a surgery that has great success. We have a big, powerful (22)-year-old right-handed pitcher with power stuff. The success rate for guys coming back from Tommy John and retaining that stuff is very good. We saw two examples of it on the mound (Thursday) with Chris Carpenter and Jordan Zimmermann. We saw Tim Hudson come back from Tommy John surgery in Atlanta."
Strasburg, the 2009 first overall draft pick known for his 100 mph fastball, hurt his arm Aug. 21 in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies. The next day he underwent an MRI, the first of two, and was placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday.
Although the injury was first thought to be nothing more than a flexor strain in his forearm, a arthrogram performed Thursday showed the "significant tear," Rizzo said.
"Stephen requested we not break the news last night because he didn't want to rain on Bryce Harper's parade, so to speak," Rizzo said, referring to the Nationals' 2010 first-round draft pick who was introduced at a media conference Thursday.
Strasburg, called the "most-hyped pick in draft history" by ESPN, made his major-league debut on June 8 and quickly made an impact on the sad-sack Nationals. In 12 starts this season, he has gone 5-3 with a 2.91 earned-run average and 92 strikeouts.