When he first found out he was in disbelief. He thought his career might be over. He broke down and cried. Just the unknown of it all.
Tommy John surgery.
This was December of 1993. He was back and ready to pitch in August of 1994, but the strike ended that opportunity. By April of 1995 he had made the Toronto Blue Jays out of spring training.
Former major leaguer Paul Menhart, currently the pitching coach for the Potomac Nationals, played parts of three seasons with the Blue Jays, Mariners and Padres. He was the pitching coach for Stephen Strasburg last year at the Arizona Fall League and has first-hand knowledge of undergoing and returning from ligament replacement surgery.
Menhart says the good news is that they have perfected this surgery over the years. He pointed to pitchers like Chris Carpenter and Josh Johnson. Those pitchers returned to pitch as good as - and sometimes better than - they had prior to the surgery.
He said the first thing he would tell Strasburg would be "to definitely reassure him that he was going to be fine."
Menhart feels Strasburg can come back even stronger after the surgery, adding, "He just has to be patient. He will have to follow the rehab schedule and the throwing program.
"I know he will take this very seriously because he is the biggest competitor. Strasburg has to be careful not to over do it and try to come back too quickly."
Menhart remembers being in a sling for a month or so but doing shoulder exercises the day after surgery. Physical therapy started instantly. He worked the squishy tennis-like ball in his hand.
This season, Menhart worked with Jordan Zimmermann for a full month of his rehab after Tommy John surgery and was very impressed with how well he responded.
"Zimmermann feels great," Menhart said. "He has done a great job (recovering)."
Zimmermann pitched four innings Thursday for the Nationals, exactly 372 days following surgery. He had his first rehab assignment in Potomac on July 3, 318 days following the procedure.
If everything goes in similar fashion for Strasburg - though there are no guarantees that will happen - he could be pitching for the Nats by mid-September 2011.