The Kris Medlen injury is more proof Mike Rizzo made the right call on the Stephen Strasburg shutdown

The Braves failed to protect Kris Medlen like the Nationals protected Stephen Strasburg
The Braves failed to protect Kris Medlen like the Nationals protected Stephen Strasburg

There will always be people who continue to question the Stephen Strasburg shutdown of 2012.  Perhaps there’s nothing that will change people’s minds on this issue, but over here, it looks like history is beginning to vindicate Mike Rizzo.

The Nationals shutdown Strasburg two years ago because it was the smartest approach to protect his pitcher’s long term health based on all available evidence and professional expert medical opinion.

While Rizzo was taking the enlightened, educated approach, there were armchair “experts” everywhere advising him to do something different. Move Strasburg to the bullpen. Shut him down for a month earlier in the season. Skip a few starts. “Save” his arm for the playoffs…as if pitches thrown by young pitchers can be distributed whenever, wherever as if they’re chips being used at a casino.

One team listened to the armchair experts–the Atlanta Braves. Young ace Kris Medlen tore his UCL the exact same month Stephen Strasburg tore his in August 2010.  Yet, the Braves used a completely different approach with their recovering pitcher. Mike Rizzo put Strasburg on the same recovery schedule that proved successful with Jordan Zimmermann, who had Tommy John surgery a year earlier.

The Braves decided to “save” Medlen for the postseason, limiting his innings by pitching him out of the bullpen for most of 2012. In process, he racked up 53 total pitching appearances on the season.  That’s a lot for an elbow still recovering from surgery.

Listen, this is not an exact science. Stephen Strasburg could tear his UCL again tomorrow. So could any other pitcher on the Nats roster. You cannot prevent pitching injuries. You can only minimize the risk by listening to your doctors and replicating strategies that have worked in the past. This is what Mike Rizzo chose to do, and I commend him for it.

The Braves tried a different–and riskier–approach. In the process, they overtaxed a young arm they desperately need to anchor their rotation.

Nope, this isn’t an exact science. But the Nationals ace is healthy for the 2014 season. The Braves ace is not. I wonder if any of the armchair “experts” bothered to notice.

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3 thoughts on “The Kris Medlen injury is more proof Mike Rizzo made the right call on the Stephen Strasburg shutdown”

  1. No offense, but if your paragraph about pitching being an inexact science is true-which I believe it is-then your post makes little sense. You can’t say that pitching injuries are essentially random in one breath and then use the Medlen injury to justify the Strasburg decision with the other.

    You are assuming that the Braves overtaxed Medlen and caused his injury, and that Strasburg has been saved by caution. But there is no real evidence for either position. If Strasburg blows out his elbow tomorrow it won’t mean anything other than pitching injuried tend to be unpredictable.

    I know you approve of how the Nats handled the situation. But a random injury to another arm doesn’t make them right.

    1. That’s fair. But my point is that teams should minimize the risk by listening to doctors and copying approaches that have worked in the past. No, you can’t guarantee a player won’t re-injure himself, but you can reduce the risk as much as possible. Looking at his total appearances, the Braves’ use of Medlen was highly questionable. Essentially, they decided to take on more risk than the Nationals did with Strasburg and that’s not an approach I’d recommend.

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