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Make Tommy John surgery standard operating procedure

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Why bother to even try these young pitchers before they wind up needing Tommy John surgery?

Why not just make it standard operating procedure and get it out of the way?

It seems like an inordinate number of pitching prospects in baseball wind up needing elbow or labrum surgery sometime in the first five year or so of their career.

The latest is the number one pitching prospect for the Washington Nationals, Jordan Zimmermann, who, after an  MRI on his right elbow, was diagnosed with a torn ligament and recommended for Tommy John surgery that will keep him off the mound until at least 2011.

It’s a good thing baseball is keeping a close eye on those pitch counts. Imagine what would happen if a pitcher, let’s say, threw 160 pitches in game like Juan Marichal or Luis Tiant did during their careers. Their arms would literally fall off on the mound right in front of our eyes.

Maybe 100 pitches is still too high of a pitch count. Let’s cut it down to 60, and start awarding wins to pitchers who leave the game after three innings with a lead.

It’s not as if the Nationals overworked this kid. They babied Zimmermann. He pitched just 91 1/3 innings this season, and was close to being shut down for the year anyway, as acting general manager Mike Rizzo has made a point of not overusing the young prospects. And make no mistake about it, Jordan Zimmemann, 23, was the Nationals top prospect, a potential number one pitcher who had impressed other teams he faced throughout this season.

Zimmermann told The Washington Times that he plans to stay with the club while recovering and has already gotten his mind thinking about coming back, particularly after talking with teammate Sean Burnett, the reliever who missed all of 2005 after undergoing Tommy John surgery but has returned. “I was pretty shocked and shook up,” Zimmermann told the Times. “It sucks. It’s a long period. But if you work hard, you come back stronger than ever. I talked to Burnett, and he said it’s the best thing he ever had done to him. It’s a good thing. It sucks now, but in the long run, it’s gonna be a good thing.”

Is it a good thing or a bad thing for the Stephen Strasburg negotiations? It depends on where you already stand on that. For those who want the Nationals to pay the freight, the loss of Zimmermann only raises the sense of urgency to sign the number one draft pick for whatever Brinks truck he wants. For those who worry about paying $20 million or more to a young pitching prospect, with the fear of Tommy John surgery in the future, the Zimmermann news is more evidence to be conservative.

Radio

Listen to myself and co-host Kevin Sheehan on “The Sports Fix” from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN 980 AM Washington and espn980.com

For more information about Thom Loverro, go to www.thomloverro.com

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