Stephen Strasburg will make one of the final starts of his season today in San Francisco, and so for a few hours his performance will take precedence over the noisy debate about his impending shutdown. His pitching will clear away the noise, at least for the afternoon.
The controversy simmering around Strasburg’s innings limit has taken on a life of its own. In the rush to debate and judge, many of the pertinent facts of the matter are forgotten, overlooked or distorted. This is an attempt to straighten out some of them. It is not a complaint or rebuke, but a refresher. None of this is new information, but it is a way to get a baseline in one place, laid out clearly, as the noise level rises and rises.
● There is no number. General Manager Mike Rizzo did not start this season with a 160-inning limit for Strasburg planned. Rizzo does not have a 180-inning threshold in mind right now. Nothing was established, and nothing has been revealed. He never changed his mind about the number, because, again, there never was a number. Between 160 and 180 is the best speculation, but it is only speculation.
The moment Strasburg will be shut down is not determined only by counting innings. Rizzo will go on how Strasburg’s command and arm strength hold, how many stressful innings he throws (i.e., innings with a lot of men on base or a lot of pitches thrown) and other factors. The pure volume of innings is a factor. It is not the only factor.
● The Nationals will not skip starts. Anything you can think of — a six-man rotation, making him the closer, skipping starts, giving him a month off — was never on the table. Rizzo believed since the winter that Strasburg needed a consistent schedule, both to help him grown as a pitcher — remember, he had 17 major league starts when this year began — and to give him the best chance of staying healthy.
“There’s not going to be a whole lot of tinkering going on,” Rizzo said on February 20 in Viera, Fla. “We’re going to run him out there until his innings are gone and then stop him from pitching.
“He’s a young pitcher that’s still learning how to pitch in the big leagues. I think it’s unfair for him to get him ramped up in spring training, start the season on a regular rotation then shut him down or skip him. We’re going to make him comfortable — regular rotation, regular rest. I think we’re deep enough that we can do that. We want to give him the best opportunity to get him into the rhythm of being a major league pitcher.”
●There was never a chance Strasburg would pitch in the playoffs. From the first day of spring training, Rizzo knew Strasburg’s season would end sometime in September. “We’re going to run him out there until his innings are gone and then stop him from pitching,” Rizzo said in that same Feb. 20 session.
Rizzo repeated the sentiment in a radio interview in April
And here is a similar refrain from September 2011.
● It’s not just about surgery. The condition of Strasburg’s reconstructed elbow, about two years after surgery, is not what drives the Nationals’ belief he needs to be shut down. Strasburg threw only 44 innings last season between the majors and minors combined. His arm has never endured the wear of a full major league season. And because he throws 97-mph fastballs and 91-mph changeups, the violence of his arm action increases the risk of injury. His arm — not just his elbow, but his shoulder, rotator cuff, labrum, etc. — is not conditioned to throw an entire season.
Pitchers are most susceptible to injury when they face big increases of innings. This is what Strasburg had to say back in May about what led to tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in 2010, the injury that precipitated the surgery and missing most of 2011:
“I think what led me to get hurt was not being in as good of shape,” Strasburg said. “When you’re only throwing five innings in the minors and then you come up here and throw 90-something pitches your first game and then expect to do that every five days, it’s a big adjustment. You look at what I was used to in college, we were done at the end of May. It was a long year. I needed to be in better shape than I was in college, and I can say I wasn’t as in good of shape as I was in college. I think that’s what led to breaking down and having a serious injury.”
● Strasburg also had this to say back in May: “We’re all in this together. If it does come to that, it would be tough. But I know that we have a lot of people, a lot of doctors that have a lot more education than I do about injuries like this. I know they have my best interest at heart, so I’ve got to trust what they want me to do, just roll with it. What we’re trying to build here is not just a team that tries to win it for one year. We’re trying to build a team that can be in contention every single year.”
And now, for today, let’s just watch him pitch.
FROM THE POST
The Nationals came into last night on fire, and Madison Bumgarner stopped them cold in a 6-1 loss
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
In the Gulf Coast League, 2012 first overall pick Lucas Giolito made his professional debut and first game performance since he finished rehabbing a ligament strain in his elbow. He allowed one run in two innings on two hits and a no walks, striking out one.
Syracuse was postponed
Akron 2, Harrisburg 1: Kevin Pucetas allowed no runs in five innings on three hits nd four walks, striking out two. Seth Bynum went 2 for 4 with a double.
Potomac 7, Wilmington 5: Rick Hague went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk. Francisco Soriano went 2 for 4 with a triple and a walk.
Hagerstown 4, Hickory 3: Brian Rauh allowed one run in six innings on four hits and a walk, striking out five. J.R. Higley went 2 for 4 with a double.
Auburn was off.