Nationals Make Big Mistake With Stephen Strasburg

I am even more irritated with the Washington Nationals than I thought I would be after manager Davey Johnson announced to the world after Friday’s game that the team is shutting Stephen Strasburg down for the duration. No more pitching by the guy who is if not the team’s best pitcher is no worse than second best.

This is like announcing “We’re not going to try anymore.” Several years ago the Chicago White Sox were viciously criticized for the so-called “white flag” trade when the team was within shouting distance of a division title, yet opted to dispense with key players at the trade deadline. Up until now the Nationals were the feel-good team story of the baseball season. Now they are the feel-bad story for as long as they last in the playoffs.

I have no special allegiance to Washington, but was ready to take the Nationals on as a back-up favorite team because D.C. fans have suffered so long without a winner. The last time Washington had a playoff game was 1933 and that was the original Senators. So now the rebuilt, reconstituted Montreal Expos are the Nationals and are going to win a division championship. Then they will enter post-season play not fully armed.

The Washington Nationals announced Friday they will not use starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg anymore this season despite him being healthy now. Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

Strasburg had Tommy John surgery like a year-and-a-half ago. I don’t think his arm is going to fall off if he takes his regular turn the rest of the season. And if it did, it will probably be for another reason, a fresh injury. They do happen, you know. Strasburg could trip over the front step of his house and fall. He could sprain his wrist brushing his teeth. He could suffer neck whiplash in an accident while backing out of a parking spot at the mall. These types of dumb things happen all of the time.

The team wants to protect Strasburg, a very valuable asset, but I’m betting that Strasburg is more annoyed than I am about this, even if he eventually issues some namby-pampy statement through the team in the interests of harmony saying he is OK with the call. This is like a season-ending injury to your 15-game winner and the team doesn’t expect other players to care? C’mon. A lot of these guys may never make the playoffs again. This may be the only time in Strasburg’s career, or many of the other guys’, that they flirt with a chance to play in a World Series.

Johnson said it was time to shut down Strasburg, even ahead of the planned Sept. 12 shutdown, because the media pressure has been building up over this issue. Strasburg had a bad game Friday night and was lifted after three innings, which he may or may not have had under any circumstance. But Johnson needs to remember that the team started all of this and it became an issue because of the team’s ridiculous approach.

Five years from now, when the Nationals are lousy again and Strasburg has played out his option to join a contender, someone will ask fired general manager Mike Rizzo if he thinks what he did in 2012 was the right move and someone will ask fired Davey Johnson if he thinks what he did was the right move and they will both evade the question and say they made the call based on the best information available at the time. But inside they will know they screwed up and they will be haunted by this decision forever. They will think back and realize how silly it was to bench one of the team’s best players while chasing a world championship.

I am officially off the Nationals bandwagon, even if my involvement was no more than offering a friend of the court brief. Now I hope the Nationals are eliminated from the post-season as soon as possible.  Get these guys off the radar screen, never mind the TV screen.

Topics: Davey Johnson, Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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  • natsnation21

    I completely disagree. There’s no doubt that he’s a very good pitcher, and one of the best three on our staff. However, it is beyond foolish to say that the Nats are rolling over and quitting on this season. We still have a .600 winning percentage in games that Strasburg doesn’t start, which would still be the best in baseball. He has the rotation’s worst ERA since the All-Star break. Even without him, we still have the best starters’ ERA in baseball. I could go on and on. We are arguably still baseball’s best team without him.

    And besides, this is the medically smart thing to do. The doctors who performed this surgery recommended that Strasburg’s innings be limited, and his agent (Scott Boras) hinted at legal action towards the team if he WASN’T shut down. To deny the logic behind the shutdown is to deny modern medicine. You’re essentially saying “To hell with his health; I don’t care if his arm falls off after this season. He has to pitch because the Nationals are nothing without him!”

    You’re saying that Rizzo will be fired in five years, haunted by the ghosts of this decision. But Strasburg will still be on the Nationals in five years, and actually pitching well because his arm wasn’t destroyed by a heavy workload this season. The Nats will also still have Bryce Harper, Gio Gonzalez, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos (currently out with a torn ACL), Danny Espinosa, and Ryan Zimmerman, while Ross Detwiler, Ian Desmond, and Jordan Zimmerman are free agents in 2016, and are all due for big extensions. Even without extending those three, that’s more than half of the current starting lineup and arguably the two best pitchers, almost all of whom have their best days ahead of them. The Nationals are very well set up for long-term success, and I’m glad that Rizzo realizes it, while you don’t. They’re not just going to fall apart after this season; if anything, they’ll be better.

    Maybe the Nationals won’t win the World Series this year. But with a fully healthy Strasburg next year, along with the rest of the team that has made them baseball’s best this season, a year older and better, there’s no reason to think they won’t be even better next year. Why on earth would this be their only chance to win?

    Oh, right. This year would be be their only chance if some great young pitcher suffered a terrible injury because he was overworked coming off Tommy John surgery.

  • Yura Deebag

    Dumb. Read Scott Boras’ thought on it. Every “professional” with an opinion on this agrees it is the right thing to do.

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