Stephen Strasburg will be benched by Washington Nationals on advice of doctors


After having elbow surgery, Stephen Strasburg missed most of last season. He has nearly reached the limit for innings that doctors have suggested for him. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

The Washington Nationals and their general manager, Mike Rizzo, have announced that they will bench star pitcher Stephen Strasburg in the next few weeks.

The Nats are not sitting Strasburg down because he is pitching poorly. Strasburg has been terrific this season. He has a record of 15 wins and five losses. Strasburg is also among the major league leaders with 183 strikeouts in 1451 / 3 innings.

The Nats are ordering Strasburg to stop pitching because he injured his elbow during the 2010 season. Strasburg had a major operation on the elbow — “Tommy John surgery,” named after the first pitcher who had the procedure. Strasburg missed most of the 2011 season, pitching only 24 innings for the Nationals.

The doctors who perform these surgeries say a pitcher such as Strasburg should limit the number of innings he pitches to about 160 in his first full season after the operation. Major league starters often pitch more than 200 innings in a full season.

So Strasburg will miss September’s pennant race and what may be the Nationals’ first playoff appearance.

Some baseball fans and folks on sports talk shows say Strasburg should keep pitching. They argue that the Nats have a chance to win the World Series with Strasburg pitching. Some have even said the team is babying Strasburg.

I think the Nationals and Rizzo are absolutely right to sit Strasburg down after he reaches his innings limit. The team is simply following the advice of its doctors. They are the experts on what is the best thing to do in this situation.

You may notice that the talk-show folks who are screaming that Strasburg should be tough and keep pitching are not doctors or surgeons. They are not medical experts.

There is another reason I think the Nats are right to sit Strasburg. By following the doctors’ advice and being careful about his health, the team is setting a good example for people who coach kids.

Too often, coaches and parents ignore doctors’ advice and kids get hurt. For example, doctors have said for years that young baseball pitchers should not throw curveballs. Kids should wait until age 14 or 15, when their arms are strong enough to throw breaking pitches.

Turn on the Little League World Series. (The championship games begin Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on ABC.) What do you see? Twelve-year-olds throwing curveballs.

Similarly, doctors say kids should not play one sport year-round before high school because it increases their chance of injuries. Still, plenty of kids’ basketball and soccer teams play all the time.

The Nationals are trying to protect Strasburg from injury so he can be a great pitcher for many years, not just one season. I wish more kids coaches and teams would follow the Nats’ example.

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 18 sports books for kids, including eight books about baseball. The latest is “Throwing Heat.”

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