PITTSBURGH -- Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg is not a doctor, but he was asked why so many pitchers were having Tommy John surgery lately. Strasburg didn't mention any particular player, but he is concerned about how future pitchers are being used at a young age, especially during travel ball season, which is played year round.
"Even during the offseason, I go watch my buddy's travel team and the team they are facing, they bring this kid in," Strasburg said. "It's December and he throws 120 pitches in four innings. [There is this other kid] who threw 190 pitches in 14 innings in high school. That whole mindset of travel ball and high school, it's becoming such a year-round sport. Pitchers at 9 years old are exclusively pitchers, not playing any other positions. For me, at that age, I played other positions, too.
"I think that whole change of it has become more of a job at a younger age and kids not understanding or having the resources of learning how to take care of their bodies. You see these kids, they feel great and never get sore, so they keep throwing. It's like taking money out of the bank and not putting anything back in."
Strasburg had Tommy John surgery in 2010, but it had nothing to do with him pitching year round. He sprained his medial collateral ligament on the second to last day of the 2009 Arizona Fall League season and it affected his ability to prepare for the 2010 season. Strasburg couldn't run or lift weights with his lower body. In fact, he couldn't do anything until four weeks before Spring Training.
It seems unbelievable because he was dominant in the Major and Minor Leagues in '10. Who can forget his Major League debut against the Pirates on June 8, 2010? He allowed two runs in seven innings and struck out 14 batters. His last game was Aug. 21 against the Phillies that year.
"I didn't have my legs under me when I got called up," Strasburg said. "You have so much more adrenaline going on. You are not used to it. You are reaching back on every pitch, trying to make every pitch better. You don't need to go and try to throw 100 [mph] every time. You are out there trying to do it, especially with the young guys. They might be able to. Locating the fastball a little bit better, try to change speeds a little bit more -- just understanding the situation will definitely help you. Having veterans in the clubhouse, I've been able to learn those things. In the course of the season, it adds up."
Strasburg also said he didn't take care of his arm during off-days while he was in the Minors.
"I was throwing every single day until I got called up. The plan was to condition my arm and get it in shape. As you know, during the course of the season, guys use the off-day to their advantage. It's great not to pick up a baseball and recharge your batteries."
After pain-free BP, LaRoche set for return
PITTSBURGH -- After playing two rehab games with Class A Advanced Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg, Adam LaRoche rejoined the Nationals on Saturday and took batting practice with the team without any problems.
LaRoche is currently on the 15-day disabled list because of a right quad strain, but he will be activated to play on Sunday, according to manager Matt Williams.
"I got to test it in a game the last two days between Potomac and Harrisburg," LaRoche said. "I can't really feel it. I can't even say that it's just tight or even sore. I didn't feel it at all. I'm really surprised that it was gone. As bad as it hurt and from what we could see from the MRI, I didn't think with a week off it would make it go away."
LaRoche's biggest test came while he was with Harrisburg. One of the Senators hitters almost hit LaRoche in the dugout with a flying bat. LaRoche got out of the way quickly and knew he was ready to play.
"There was a left-handed hitter up and the [hitter] swings and he let's go of the bat and it's flying at LaRoche in the dugout," Williams said. "He ducked and got out of the way. He felt good about that. The bat hit a Gatorade cooler and ripped the nozzle off. He had Gatorade all over his back, so he is ready to go."
LaRoche was one of the hottest hitters on the Nationals when he was placed on the disabled list on May 11, hitting .319 with five home runs and 21 RBIs.
"Hopefully, that's a boost for us. We are glad to have him back," Williams said about LaRoche.
With LaRoche coming back, the Nationals optioned infielder Zach Walters to Triple-A Syracuse. The Nationals want him to get consistent at-bats in the Minor Leagues.
"He is a young player and he has been pressed into action because of [our need in the big leagues]. It's important for him to get at-bats," Williams said. "He did some really good things for us, but it's good for him to get back down and get some consistent ABs."
Gio throws on flat ground without discomfort
WASHINGTON -- Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez threw on flat ground for the first time since he was placed on the disabled list this past Sunday because of left shoulder inflammation. He threw for only a few minutes, but didn't complain about discomfort in the shoulder.
Gonzalez will throw on flat ground again Sunday at PNC Park. Manager Matt Williams didn't give any timetable as to when Gonzalez will be activated from the disabled list.
"He'll stretch it out a little bit more tomorrow and look to getting back on the mound," Williams said.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.