After recovering from major surgery, Stephen Strasburg returned late in the year to make five starts for the Washington Nationals. His Major League innings combined with his work in the Minors gave Strasburg a total of 44.1 in 2011. While he figures to begin 2012 as Washington’s top starter, the Nationals have announced that they will be placing Strasburg on an innings limit to protect his arm. Washington hasn’t produced a hard number, but yesterday Ben Goessling of MASN Sports took a stab at predicting Strasburg’s total.
Strasburg showed his toughness in 2011, coming back sooner than expected to take on Minor Leaguers and ultimately end the season in Washington. Strasburg’s velocity and command were unaffected by injury, as he returned in top form. The only thing that will hold Strasburg back in 2012 will be his own team. To make sure Strasburg’s arm doesn’t become overworked, the Nationals will place him on a strict innings limit.
Washington made a similar move with young righty Jordan Zimmermann this season. After being shut down in 2009 and undergoing Tommy John Surgery, Zimmermann was able to log just over 70 innings between the Minor and Major Leagues in 2010. Zimmermann was back with the Nationals this spring, but his innings were capped at 160. Washington stuck to the number, shutting Zimmermann down after he reached 161.1.
In comparison, Strasburg logged around 50 innings in 2011. Washington is expected to be just as careful handling Strasburg as they were with Zimmermann, and Goessling estimates that the Strasburg will see no more than 160 innings in 2012. Goessling goes on to say that the number could be a little less as Strasburg’s 2011 total is 20 innings shy of Zimmerman’s 2010 mark.
While this may not be earth-shattering news, it does bring us back to the question of what will the Nationals do if they find themselves in a playoff race come September?
Washington could try and finagle Strasburg’s innings earlier in the year, but even so he is unlikely to be available late into the season. As the team’s likely top starting pitcher, this could present a serious problem for the Nationals.
Goessling goes on to say how this just increases the importance of Washington picking up a veteran starter to reduce the reliance on its young arms. Unfortunately for the Nationals, we’re heading into a weak free agent market, with the best options not named C.C. Sabathia being C.J. Wilson and Edwin Jackson.
Some may consider it a little premature to use the Nationals and playoff race in the same sentence. While fans may not want to hear it, maybe the club would be better off playing it safe with Strasburg and waiting on up-and-comers like Bryce Harper to reach the show.
Whatever the case, one thing is for sure. The Nationals are heading in the right direction.
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