ST. LOUIS — Stephen Strasburg went through the Washington Nationals’ workout Saturday afternoon much the way he has everyday since Sept. 8. He was a part of it, but on the periphery. He is not on the Nationals’ NLDS roster. He will not pitch for them in the playoffs.
It’s a feeling fellow Tommy John survivor Adam Wainwright knows all too well. Wainwright, who will start for the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLDS on Sunday afternoon against Gio Gonzalez, was in exactly the same position during the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series run.
“During the time, I felt like I was a huge impact to that team,” Wainwright said of his experience last season. “I’m not sure I did anything, but I tricked myself into believing I was pretty important last year. I felt like I was there for anybody who needed me, at whatever level that was. Nothing else to do, right?”
The Nationals have done their best to make Strasburg feel included in their stretch drive and playoff run. The right-hander, who was notably shut down for the season after 159 1/3 innings in his first full season back after Tommy John surgery, was right in the thick of things during the team’s NL East championship celebration and to a man every teammate noted his contributions to that title.
So Strasburg will do what he can. Wainwright said he rarely feels like the 2011 World Series title was something accomplished without him, until “autograph seekers hand me a ball and it’s a 2011 World Series ball, and then they take it back and say, ‘No, no, sign this one instead.’ That’s when it hits that I really didn’t get to do a whole lot.”
Wainwright called his rehab from Tommy John a “journey” and without saying as much he seemed to be empathizing with the plight of the Nationals’ ace.
The first part of Wainwright’s season was not to the standard the Cardinals’ righty has come to expect from himself. He called his April, in which he had a 7.32 ERA, “an embarrassment to this team and to the game of baseball.” He experienced plenty of the same symptoms coming back as Strasburg did and those symptoms: fatigue and inconsistency to name a few, were one of the main reasons why the Nationals chose to shut him down when they did.
“I certainly respect the fact that they made the decision and stood by it,” said Cardinals GM John Mozeliak. “History shows that you do have to be smart with the workload when you’re bringing someone back. I also think the way you might reflect on it is different by the age of the player and what they’ve accomplished in the past. It’s not one simple answer. I think you’ve got to look through a set of lenses that allows you to have some flexibility. But I think what they did was the best decision for their player.”
Strasburg will be a spectator. He’ll certainly be a topic during the nationally-televised broadcasts and likely it’ll be only his cheering for his teammates that’ll be on display. He’s the ace of a team but helpless to assist them as they chase the sport’s greatest prize. Wainwright knows how he feels.
“I totally get now why Tommy John recovery is so hard,” Wainwright said. “Just as a competitor and as a man, just feeling blessed to be a baseball player, professionally, for a living. I’ve learned to appreciate that a lot more. This game I get to play is very special to me, and missing that time last year, I really learned how much I love the game.”