Face it, Rizzo has thought of all this. I’m sure he’s spent some sleepless nights trying to think of a way to protect his pitcher and keep him around. But he knows there isn’t a way, that the rules set forth when Strasburg underwent the surgery are rules that have been devised and refined over the years as more pitchers have had the procedure and recovered from it. No two pitchers are alike, but there is a pattern, and the Nats in particular look at Jordan Zimmermann’s recovery as a road map. While Zimmermann’s record this season is just 9-7, he has 27 walks and 114 strikeouts and if he ever got consistent run support from the offense he might be the best pitcher in the rotation.
Rizzo is considering Strasburg, 24, the player as well as Strasburg the Nationals player. This is a kid we’re talking about, in baseball terms. While Natstown would like to see him finish his career here, that might not happen. Do you want a GM who only cares about the player’s health as far as his contract extends? As far as the season extends? As far as this month extends? Through the weekend? If you do, you’re not much of a fan. Or a person.
Someday — and I don’t think this is farfetched — Strasburg will be making a Hall of Fame induction speech (which may be the hardest start he will ever make) and if that happens, I’d be stunned if he didn’t thank Rizzo and the Nationals for being careful with his thunderbolt of an arm.
Rizzo’s opinion should also carry more weight than the blatherings of ESPN’s various bloviators. When Stephen A. Smith talks Wizards, listen. When Dick Vitale talks Hoyas, listen. Turn down the volume, or mute the television and hit the CC button, but pay attention. Otherwise, let’s assume for the sake of argument — and it’s a safe bet — that Mike Rizzo knows more about baseball than those two, or any of the other “national” experts who’ve weighed in in recent days, starting with Tim McCarver during the All-Star Game, who acted like he’d just discovered the polio vaccine when he revealed the Strasburg plan. Remember, most of these folks couldn’t spell “Nationals” before this season. (Although in fairness, it wasn’t that long ago that the team itself spelled it “Natinals,” so let that bide.)
Rizzo should know more than those guys, or you, or me. That’s his job, and if you look at this team, you’d have to say he’s doing his job pretty well. He will be considered for various executive of the year awards, and rightly so. You or I could have drafted Strasburg or Bryce Harper. It’s the Gio Gonzalezes and the Adam LaRoches and a million other decisions along the way that have come together to make this team the best in baseball right now. And that means Rizzo has earned the benefit of the doubt.
Back when the nation — and much of the nation’s capital — was ignoring the Nationals, per usual, even Strasburg admitted that while he wouldn’t be thrilled about being shut down, he knew it was coming: “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.”
Be mad at Rizzo if you must, and argue till the cows come home about his decision. But he never lied about what was coming, he’s doing it for Strasburg’s own good and he’s saying that he thinks the Nationals have more than one postseason to look forward to. Honesty, compassion and optimism — isn’t that what you want from your general manager?
For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.