The Washington Nationals announced this morning that Stephen Strasburg has a “significant tear” in the Ulner Collateral Ligament in his right elbow and will “probably” have Tommy John surgery, pending a second opinion from Dr. Lewis Yocum, an expert in the procedure.

The typical rehabilitation time from this type of procedure is 12 to 18 months.

“We’ve got the dry MRI, we’ve got the MRI arthrogram, we’ve got two different doctor’s opinions,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “We feel it should be a typical Tommy John rehabilitation, and this is going to be no different.”

The surgery and resulting rehab will likely completely rob Strasburg of his 2011 season, but the list is long of pitchers that have had this procedure to return to previous or better results. Regardless, this is devastating news to legions of Nats fans, and baseball fans in general.

Team doctors who performed both MRIs on Strasburg believe it was an acute injury, sustained last Saturday in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Strasburg threw a change-up to OF Domonic Brown and winced in pain, calling for the trainers immediately after feeling pain in his elbow and forearm.

NatsTown has been in a daze since, waiting for the two words no one wanted to hear: Tommy John.

“It’s a tough day for him and for all of us, for everyone who’s a Nats fan,” team president Stan Kasten said on the conference call with reporters this morning. “But we saw Jordan [Zimmermann] come back last night. A year from today, Stephen will be joining him.”

RHP Jordan Zimmermann made his return to the mound last night 12 months and two weeks from his Tommy John surgery date. It’s now consecutive years that the Nats have lost their top pitching prospect to an elbow injury requiring Tommy John surgery.

“The team is confident though that the handling of Strasburg’s development was proper and industry standard. It’s frustrating, because this happens to people you think it shouldn’t happen to,” Rizzo said.

“This player was developed and cared for the correct way. Things like this happen. Pitchers break down. Pitchers get hurt. We’re satisfied with the way he was developed. I know Scott Boras [Strasburg’s agent] was satisfied with the way he’s been treated, and Stephen is also. We’re good with that.”

“Frustrated, yes. Second-guessing ourselves, no.”

Strasburg’s rookie campaign ends with a 5-3 record, 2.91 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 68 innings. His K/9 rate was the highest in the MLB for starting pitchers.

Strasburg was obviously disappointed in the diagnosis, but Kasten said he’s already determined to come back better than 100 percent.

“He was upset Monday,” Kasten said. “This is tough news for a kid with this kind of future and the high expectations he puts on himself. This is a high-achievement oriented kid.”

Strasburg did not address the media, but the team hopes to make him available soon.

Some of the biggest names in baseball have had the same procedure: Former Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter, the Braves’ Tim Hudson and Billy Wagner, the Yankees’ A.J. Burnett, the Cubs’ Ryan Dempster, the Twins’ Francisco Liriano and the Giants’ Brian Wilson all are among the names of Tommy John recipients who came back at a high level.

Nationals fans take little solace in those words, though.  It’s somewhat ironic that the Nats found out that Strasburg needs surgery on the same day they introduced their 2010 No. 1 overall pick, OF Bryce Harper, to the fans and media at Nationals Park. According to Rizzo and Kasten, Strasburg requested the announcement be delayed until after Harper’s big day.

Any goodwill generated from yesterday’s festivities has certainly been quashed with the sobering news that the “Greatest Pitching Prospect Ever” will miss the next 12 to 18 months. It’s entirely possible that the next time Strasburg takes the mound, the 17-year old Harper might actually be challenging for a spot on the roster.

And it certainly casts a pall over any negotiations with Adam Dunn and any other possible free agent over the offseason. It’s questionable at this point, without Strasburg to lead the pitching staff, whether it makes sense to sink big dollars into players for next season or to wait until the offseason before 2012 when Strasburg hopefully makes his triumphant return.

Regardless, this diagnosis opens up plenty of questions for Kasten and Rizzo about the franchise moving forward. What should have been an offseason full of possibilities now turns into more waiting.

For more coverage of Strasburg’s injury and Harper’s introduction, please visit Nats News Network.

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