People say things they don’t mean all the time.

Of course you look good in that.

I’m going to start exercising.

I think I’ll do my taxes this year.

It was widely assumed that when the Washington Nationals announced an inning limit on Stephen Strasburg following his Tommy John surgery, it was in the spirit of the above statements. If the team suddenly found itself in an unexpected universe where the Philadelphia Phillies were terrible and the Nationals’ pitching staff was the most dominant in the league, surely they would push the limits of Strasburg’s recovery and use him down the stretch and in the playoffs.

However, General Manager Mike Rizzo has been adamant in keeping his promise to keep Strasburg’s arm safe from anything more than 160 innings of work this season. Prior to today’s start against the Toronto Blue Jays, Strasburg has averaged only 94 pitches per outing, which on the whole isn’t too far off the average for starting pitchers, but is decidedly below the average among the game’s elite with whom Strasburg certainly belongs.

Nonetheless, Rizzo’s safe guard for the national treasure that is Strasburg’s arm continues to be questioned, most recently by Joel Sherman of the New York Post. This was the GM’s response:

This is the last time I am discussing this with any member of the media. It is well-chronicled. It is not changing.

To ask him to throw 200 innings now, that is not a prudent way to do business with a 23-year-old, top-of-the-rotation starter we plan to have for a long time. [Shutting him down] is going to be painful, and we are going to take grief. But I will not shy away from it. I am the caretaker of this organization for the long haul.

The Nationals’ resolve is both praise worthy and ire worthy. While it’s refreshing to see an organization take a long term approach to building their team, I can’t shake something that our own Drew Fairservice is fond of saying: “Flags fly forever.” And a chance at a World Series banner flying from Nationals Park in Washington is one that would be greatly improved with Strasburg pitching in the starting rotation as much as possible.

However, the National League East is no stranger to dynasties, as the Philadelphia Phillies have won the division the last five seasons, and with the New York Mets offering brief interlude as division champs in 2006, before that the Atlanta Braves were crowned winners an incredible eleven straight seasons. With the sixth youngest team in baseball, the Nationals have no reason to play only for this season. More important than the roster’s average age though, is the fact that the rapidly emerging core of the team is all under team control for multiple years.

That puts them in good stead not only this season, which finds them currently sitting four games up over the Braves, but also for the future. I wonder if it might not be prudent to stretch Strasburg’s starts out a little bit so that he might be available later in the season. They could do this by allowing an extra day or two of rest between starts or by skipping him in the rotation every once in a while. Another option would be to use him out of the bullpen for a month or two later this summer.

Either way, there has to be some option, some alternative that’s not as absolute as cutting off your best player with an innings limit, and not allowing him to do what he does when the team needs it most.

Comments (5)

  1. Painful decision for sure.. It will be interesting to see if they shut him down while they’re still 4 games up in the division. They certainly aren’t a Texas Rangers type lineup – so you have to question if they can start to run away from the pack – but if they end up winning the division and going to the playoffs – it will be damn near impossible to keep him out given how dominant he’s been. I agree with you – they need to get creative to keep him around.

    • It’s true. Their lineup isn’t the most inspiring, but if Werth can come back and Espinosa can get back to where he was last year with the bat, they’re not so bad. It’s too bad Ramos is out for the year, too.

      • A good team for sure – which certainly makes it such a complicated decision. All signs seem to indicate they are on the rise and that with smart management they could be good for a very long time.. but there is no guarantee – which is why the sentiment from Drew that you noted is like a nagging thought in the back of the mind.. If you have your chance now – can you justify not going for it.

        I don’t know their system. Could it be a scenario where they use a few prospects to make a run at a pitcher headed to free agency later in the year to plug a potential void left by his departure? Grienke or someone in the same scenario?

        • Trading for late-season help seems like the most viable solution, to me at least. From the little that I’ve seen on the subject, some pitchers tend to respond poorly to more or fewer days of rest. However I haven’t seen Strasburg’s numbers in this department, and I suppose an “experiment” could be attempted by the Nats. How does this affect the other pitchers in the rotation, though? Are they shunted around to accommodate SS?

          I’m certain many people, in Toronto especially, hold fast to the “flags fly forever” sentiment. However, as you say, there are no guarantees of success. Risking an asset who some have referred to as a generational talent for uncertain reward seems like extremely poor judgement. If the Nationals are confident in the future of their organization, and they should be, and if they believe that having SS pitch more than 160 innings will be detrimental to his health, then I can see no reason why they would take ANY risk at this point in the organization’s growth.

  2. Are they saying that they will keep Strasburg out of the playoffs, or is this just a regular-season limit?

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