Chipper Jones has played in 92 playoff games over the course of a 19-year career, and the veteran third baseman says he knows exactly what the Nationals stand to lose when they put pitcher Stephen Strasburg on the shelf next month. Jones says Strasburg is the exact brand of pitcher that thrives in October baseball.
“If he starts Game 1 of every series and pitches one other game in each series, he wins every one of them,” Jones said. “He wins every one. That’s what wins in the postseason — the power, dominant arms win. ... He’s the guy in the rotation where you say, ‘Okay we’re checking that one off.’”
Jones compared Strasburg to October aces Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez.
“I’ve faced them all. You’re checking it off. ‘Let’s go get ‘em tomorrow,’” he said. “It’s nothing against the other guys on the staff because they can be as dominant on a game-to-game basis. But from a repertoire standpoint, he stands alone.”
Strasburg is scheduled to start Tuesday night’s game against the Braves. The Nats are expected to shut him down in the next month or so, likely before his season workload reaches 180 innings. Strasburg enters Tuesday’s matchup with 139 1/3 innings under his belt this season.
Jones has reached the playoffs 11 times during his career but says the postseason isn’t something any team or player can afford to take for granted.
“As a player, I would probably be a little upset. Like [Adam LaRoche] said, the playoffs are not a given. Whatever opportunities you have, you need to take advantage of them,” Jones said. “The Nationals have a crown jewel in Strasburg. He’s going to be great for a long, long time. But you never know with injuries and guys getting over the hill — that opportunity may not present itself again. If I was sitting over in that clubhouse, I would hate to squander this opportunity.
“He wants to pitch. I know he wants to pitch. Everybody knows he wants to pitch. He’s a competitor. He’s not in it for 162-game regular season for nothing. He wants that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow just like everybody else. I see both sides. I get it. But baseball players, we’re one to hunt it down and kill it. Right now. They have a chance to slay the dragon. I’m sure 24 other guys over there feel much the same way I do.”
Jones said he understands the risks and knows teams want to err on the side of caution. Still, he thinks Strasburg’s talents are so unique and a team’s opportunity to make a postseason run so rare, that it’s difficult to sit such a dominant arm.
“He has three pitches that nobody else in the game has. When I liken him to a [Justin] Verlander, Kerry Wood in his prime hybrid — he’s better than that. One thing neither one of those two had is the 90-91 mph split change-up. And it’s devastating. It’s a devastating pitch. The other guys may have as good a fastball, they may have as good a curveball, but that third pitch is the equalizer.”