The Washington Nationals haven’t wavered in their stance on star righthander Stephen Strasburg and his innings limit. Come October, come Hell or high water(at least if you ask GM Mike Rizzo), Strasburg won’t see the mound.
The Nats enter play on Monday with a four-and-a-half game edge on Atlanta for the lead in the National League East. According to CoolStandings.com, the club that hasn’t made the playoff since 1981 when playing as the Montreal Expos holds a 97.7 percent chance to secure a playoff spot. But assuming they get to the promised land of October, they are choosing to play without one of the game’s best hurlers.
180 innings. That’s what the Nats say is the number to reach. When Strasburg hits that number, he’ll be shut down for the season, regardless of the post-season opportunity that sits in front of this club. For their part, Nats manager Davy Johnson has indicated that Strasburg’s starts will be sporadic for the next few turns through the rotation, in an effort to stretch the innings until the end of the regular season. They’ll skip a start for Strasburg here, skip another one there, and hope that come end of September, they have one start left for him to make.
But why not just do the smart thing and shut him down now? At least that would give the club a chance to have him in the playoffs.
If Strasburg were to come up with a tired arm or a stiff shoulder, that would be more than enough to land him on the disabled list for a couple of weeks. The Nats would be under no obligation to activate him when eligible and unlike a demotion to the minor leagues, in a phantom DL situation Strasburg would continue to accrue Major League service time.
Then, in three or four weeks time, they could bring back their stud pitcher and let him work down the stretch run and help lead the Nationals to the playoff berth they’ve worked so hard to earn. Under this plan, Strasburg would have innings to spare that he could use during the post-season and the Nationals organization wouldn’t rob their fans or their players from a key contributor in the season’s most important time.
The playoffs are guaranteed to anyone and Rizzo could be more worried about making sure he gets to the post-season than how he’ll fare once he’s there. After all, if they do decide to give Strasburg a mid-August break and the Nats wind up falling short of a playoff spot, well, it would be a difficult thing to explain to the fans. Rizzo has decided that with guys like Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann still in the rotation, Washington can still win once they get to October.
To me, however, given how historic their collapse would have to be in order to miss the playoffs, given that John Lannan is more than capable of stepping in for Strasburg and winning a few games, given that the organization has been mired in the cellar of the NL East for so long, I think you have to give your club the best chance possible to win the World Series.
Are the Nationals in a better position to do that with Strasburg pitching games in August, or October?
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