On the rash of Tommy John surgeries, struggles for Zimmermann and offense

Let’s quickly bounce through a few topics on the morning of the Nationals’ much-needed off-day.

First, if you didn’t happen to see my report on last night’s “Nats Xtra” pregame show about left-handed prospect Matt Purke needing Tommy John and the rash of elbow injuries that we’ve seen in the game recently, check it out.

The number of Tommy John surgeries that have already been needed this season is staggering, and unfortunately for teams (and for the game as a whole, really), it seemingly keeps happening to the bright prospects, the ones that organizations are trying to protect with innings limits or carefully structured throwing programs.

In the National League East alone, Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey and Kris Medlen have all needed Tommy John surgery within the last year, as did top Nationals prospect Lucas Giolito.

Renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews and the American Sports Medicine Institute released a position statement yesterday on some of the leading causes of Tommy John surgery, something that I found really interesting. I’d recommend giving that a read if you’re interested in this stuff, but I’ll also hit a couple of the key points here.

zimmermann-frustrated-towel-sidebar.jpgThe report stated that a few of the main causes of torn ulnar collateral ligaments are pitchers throwing competitively year-round and not giving their arm and the UCL and chance to rest, pitchers continuing to pitch when fatigued and pitchers consistently throwing with 100 percent effort.

A lot of these issues are mainly focused on the youth level, when pitchers are trying to light up the radar gun to get noticed by scouts and are a part of winter ball teams that showcase them year-round.

It might not matter how much major league teams protect their star young hurlers if these pitchers have been doing damage to their arms for years, so this is something that must be addressed at the lower levels of the game going forward.

Now to some current Nationals topics.

The Nats have now lost six of their last seven after the mini-sweep by the Marlins polished off by last night’s 10-inning Miami win. Spirits in the clubhouse remain high, players say, but guys are starting to get frustrated by the team’s shaky play.

Last night, the Nats got let down by a lack of clutch hitting, as has been an issue in recent weeks. They had their 2-3-4 hitters up with nobody out and the bases loaded in the eighth with a chance to push across the go-ahead run, and couldn’t come through.

“It happens,” Adam LaRoche said. “If you’re lucky, it happens a lot and you have bases loaded all the time. Unfortunately right now, we don’t. And that’s not happening. When that spot comes up, it ends up being a much bigger deal than it should be and we’re forced to have to push a run in there and it doesn’t happen.

“Ideally, you got guys on base all the time, so this is just a test for us. To see where we’re at mentally and see how bad we want to grind our way out of it and get back in this division.”

Fortunately for the Nats, just as they keep dropping games, so are the Braves. Atlanta has lost four of its last five, leaving the Nats still just three games back of first place in the National League East. That’s the good news.

The concerning news is that while the bullpen has been tremendous and the starting pitching is keeping the team in games, the Nats’ bats continue to be quiet in big spots. Yes, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper are still out with injuries, but even without them, the offense has to start coming around, plain and simple.

Jordan Zimmermann allowed four runs (three earned) in five innings last night, leaving his season ERA at 4.07, more than a half-run higher than his career ERA. Over his last four outings, he’s pitched to a 5.96 ERA, has a WHIP of 1.68 and is allowing opposing hitters to bat .344 off him.

Zimmermann says that his stuff feels good and that he’s making what he feels are pretty good pitches. The results just haven’t been there lately.

That’s the case largely for the Nats as a whole right now, and they find themselves at 25-27 heading into the off-day as a result.

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