Baseball’s newest pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals has been on and off of the DL in recent weeks, and the Nationals have had their concerns about Strasburg’s condition.

If only they knew that Strasburg had suffered a career-threatening injury. Their crown gem, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Strasburg is the present and future of the franchise.

Multiple media outlets are reporting that Strasburg’s injury is a significant tear in the ulnar collateral ligament, needing repair via a Tommy John surgery.

His injury means a lot of things, for both the Nationals and Major League Baseball. He sold out games for a franchise that couldn’t sell out a free game, prior to his arrival. He’s given the Nationals a space in the limelight in Washington, while Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals had become the D.C. team to follow in pro sports.

His arrival was so hyped, so over blown, that no one could have lived up to it, right? 

Strasburg proved us wrong. Proved he had a nasty fastball. Proved he was able to carry a team on his back for eight or nine innings, if allowed. Proved he could make even the best hitters look silly with his unfairly hard to hit curveball.

Above all else, he proved he fit the bill as a franchise savior.

Now, the question is: will Strasburgmania resume in 2012 (when he is projected to recover by) when he gets back on the mound? Will he be the elite talent that he was before the injury? There must be at least 10 or 15 different questions floating around D.C.’s sports pubs.

“Will we still have our ace?”

“Do we fall back into the cellar again?”

“What are we supposed to expect from the ‘Nats in 2011 without him?”

These are just a few of the bigger questions being asked right now.

However, the true question, is will he ever come back to 100 percent? There used to be a day and age when a Tommy John surgery ended careers. It still does at times, but as Tim Kirkjian of ESPN pointed out, Chris Carpenter and Tommy John, the man who the surgery is named for, came back stronger and better than before the injury.

So where will Strasburg fall?

We know this much: his injury recovery timetable is approximately 12 to 18 months, and any setbacks of significance will set that table back.

A recently recovered pitcher, Chris Capuano of the Milwaukee Brewers, made a return to baseball after nearly two years of recovery time from his 2007 injury.

Now, we can only wonder how long it will take Strasburg to recover, but we know just how careful the Nationals will be with him. From day one, they’ve monitored everything about him. Pre-draft x-rays on his pitching elbow, physical therapy sessions to make sure after pitching that his elbow wouldn’t become tight, and when he made his arrival to the bigs, they set a 160-inning limit on his season. 

Time will only tell how the rookie phenom will come back from this injury, but you can only wish him well. If his career is derailed like a Kerry Wood or Mark Prior, baseball will have been robbed of a possible Cy Young winning, All Star game-starting, Hall of Fame potential pitcher.

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