Saving Stephen Strasburg’s health — and the Nationals’ future

August 20, 2012

STEPHEN STRASBURG is scheduled to make one of the more important starts of his young baseball career Tuesday night, against the Atlanta Braves. It will also be one of his last starts this season. Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo plans to shut down the all-star pitcher once he has thrown 160 to 180 innings this season,a total he could reach as soon as the first week of September. That’s the right decision, notwithstanding the Nationals’ hope for a pennant.

The foremost reason to pull Mr. Strasburg from the rotation is to preserve his health. No scientific evidence pinpoints 160 innings as the maximum threshold for a pitcher returning from ulnar collateral ligament, or Tommy John, surgery, which Mr. Strasburg had last year. But Mr. Strasburg has already surpassed this year his previous high for innings pitched in a season. Overworking him is something Dr. Lewis Yocum (the orthopedic surgeon who operated on Mr. Strasburg), baseball history (see Francisco Liriano, Chris Carpenter and others) and common sense all counsel against.

By shutting down Mr. Strasburg in September and reducing his risk of future injury, Mr. Rizzo — who calls the decision “mine and mine alone” — is making both the admirable choice for Mr. Strasburg and the prudent, if painful, choice for the Nationals.

The team is on track to bring playoff baseball back to the District for the first time since 1933, and shutdown detractors argue that the Nationals will need their best pitcher to win the World Series this year.

Mr. Strasburg is a high-performing star. But as The Post’s Adam Kilgore has noted, even without him, the Nationals would still have statistically the best starting pitching rotation in baseball, including all-star Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann. There is also the team’s resurgent and sometimes overlooked offense, which leads the National League in runs scored since the all-star break. While the Nats built their reputation on pitching early in the season, they have developed into a well-rounded contender, even without Mr. Strasburg.

The pitcher wants to pitch. “They’re gonna have to rip the ball out of my hands,” he has said. Even so, the Nationals are making a wise move. We hope they won’t need him to push deep into the playoffs this year. They do need him to be healthy for the next 10.

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