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.
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.