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Zimmermann had several encouraging starts, and a few where he, well, struggled. It's common for the velocity and strength to come back first, and we saw that with Zimmermann. But it's the command and control that TJ survivors find taking longer to come back, to get the feel of pitching again.
You might be wondering what the difference between control and command are. As explained by Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster, control is just that: throwing strikes -- the ability to keep runners off the bases via walks -- and command is the ability to be successful at both not walking batters and striking them out.
Dominance. Control. Command. The three elements of elite pitching.
Pre-injury, both Zimmermann and Strasburg showed they had these elements. Strasburg's excellence was easy to see at the Major League level; Zimmermann's was still a bit of projection. But based on his minor league performance, we didn't have to look too hard -- Zimmermann dominated each level of the minors as he took each age-appropriate step towards the bigs.
It's good to have hope, but let's temper the optimism with the reality that both of these arms are coming back from major surgery, and look at this realistically. It might take Zimmermann all season to get the touch back that had led him to be so successful thus far in his short professional career. It might not return to pre-surgery levels at all.
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Does that mean he can't be a functioning member of the rotation? No. We can hope for the best. But there's a real reason that all of the independent, stat-based pre-season projections have Zimmermann for less than what fans would call a "normal" season. There's a good chance he'll miss time with various soreness as his rebuilt elbow learns how to function again under the stress of pitching.
And the same thing is going to happen with Strasburg. If -- and it's a big if -- he's able to follow the same impressive rehab schedule that Zimmermann did, the best-case scenario is that we see him in September for a few meaningless starts outside of a pennant chase. Those starts will mean more to him and his competitive nature than it will for the ballclub.
It won't really be Stephen Strasburg pitching, even if he is hitting the mid-90s on the radar gun.
For that, he'll need all of next winter to have a normal off-season: strength, conditioning, etc. Not rehabbing from an injury.
Then, in 2012, he'll go through the process that Zimmermann will go through this year. Learning to to pitch again, and battling his own body getting used to the violent torture of throwing a baseball every five days.
I don't write these words to depress anyone, just a few days before pitchers and catchers report. Like I said, we can hope for the best. But history tells us that it takes 12-18 months to recover from Tommy John surgery.
Nats fans are hungry for a competitive ballclub. They got a taste of it last season every time Strasburg took to the mound. But then the injury. It was like smelling a steak cooking and then watching the cook throw it in the trash.
But let's allow these two precious arms to fully recover from the trauma of surgery before placing unrealistic expectations on them.