Through his first nine career starts, Stephen Strasburg has been nothing short of excellent, posting a 12.4 K/9, 1.067 WHIP, and a 178 ERA+.
In 2002, another rookie pitcher came up and caused quite the sensation. Over his first nine starts (52 IP), he struck out 65, and had a 1.23 WHIP / 3.98 ERA. That pitcher's name was Mark Prior.
Why would Mark Prior's name be significant?
Because he is the first name to pop up for many fans whenever a young starting pitcher has difficulty with injuries.
Time and time again, we have seen young starting pitchers with electric stuff, fall by the wayside due to injury issues. The world of scouting often sees no greater challenge than assessing the durability of a pitcher, and in turn, nothing is more scary to many fans than a young future star going down with an injury.
While I am aware of the concern that could surround Strasburg, I am far away from that particular "panic" group, however. Three particular reasons come to mind:
1. It's a precautionary move.
Strasburg was scratched simply because his arm would not loosen.
"They're taking every precaution with me," Strasburg said to the media, and it shows.
All former athletes can likely attest to a day when their body simply was not up for the task. With a 47-59 record, and control of Strasburg until 2016, the Nationals have no incentive to push him now.
2. Baseball is becoming smarter.
Despite what old-time players like Jim Bunning and Ron Darling have to say, baseball is a different game. While great players have existed in every generation of the game, great players are now multi-million dollar investments, and even the most shrewd of front offices cannot make one appear out of thin air.
The Nationals recognize this, as does most of baseball. He is a 22-year-old kid who has already shown he has the ability to rack up Cy Youngs in just 54 1/3 innings. While not appealing to the tough guys of the world, it just makes sense to rest, as Strasburg obviously has little to learn as it is.
3. His manager is not Dusty Baker.
I would take a shot at Baker, wouldn't I?
Dusty Baker joined the Cubs in 2003 and, despite Prior's 2002 injury, actually increased his already excessive pitch total from 106.5 per start to 111.3 for the first 19 games of 2003. Needless to say, Prior got hurt again, and kept getting hurt.
Did Baker have an excuse? Of course, the Cubs did, after all, come one win from the World Series. However, the Cubs also had a good bullpen, anchored by Joe Borowski, Kyle Farnsworth, and Mike Remlinger, which could have been used more efficiently.
Strasburg has been handled far more gently, averaging only 94.2 pitches per start, a workload he is likely more familiar with from his time in college and the minors. While pitch counts are obviously an arbitrary number, 17 pitches (18.2%) of additional workload is a lot for a young pitcher.
Also factor in this analogy...say you are put in a test where you have to bench press half your body weight, as much as you could, if we say each repetition is three percent more straining than before. Given this, one can say that the summation of stress after 111 reps is a full 70 percent greater than the stress after 94. Suddenly, it makes sense why Prior broke down.
Fortunately, Prior's fate will likely not be Strasburg's. The situation around Strasburg is simply more suited for growth and development, rather than having to instantly become the staff ace, workload be damned. Do not worry about Strasburg, he will be fine.