This was supposed to be Strasburg’s finale, Wednesday at Citi Field against the New York Mets, his 29th and last start of the Nationals’ turnaround season. But that was before Manager Davey Johnson brought a premature end to that already premature end to what had become not only the dominant issue in Washington’s clubhouse, but across baseball. Strasburg, Johnson determined last Saturday, would pitch no more.
That ending, however abrupt it seemed, deviated in no way from the Nationals’ plan since before the season. Strasburg and his right arm — an arm that was surgically repaired on Sept. 3, 2010 — would be treated with caution that was both extreme and, given the club’s position atop the standings, unprecedented.
But Wednesday represented the plan in its stark reality: Lannan, a soft-tossing left-hander who started twice on opening day for the Nationals in their sorriest seasons, was on the mound, and Strasburg, a flame-throwing right-hander, in the dugout.
“Of course he’s been pestering [pitching coach Steve McCatty] about what he can do,” Johnson said. The conversations, Johnson said, have gone something like this.
Strasburg: “Can I keep throwing off the mound?”
Strasburg: “Can I play catch in the outfield?”
“It’s pretty bad now, but it’s going to get worse,” Johnson said, “because he’s going to be champing.”
As a means of reaching out to his star-turned-extra, Johnson joked with Strasburg before the game to keep taking batting practice despite the shutdown. “If I can’t use your arm,” Johnson said, “I’ll use your bat.”
But what, exactly, Strasburg is supposed to do with his time appears unclear. When he walked into the clubhouse just past 4 p.m. — wearing a tan suit and enormous black headphones — he headed to the back right corner of the room, plopped down at his locker, and pulled out a laptop computer. A starting pitcher’s life, on days he doesn’t pitch, can be sedentary. But here was Strasburg entering into the final 20 games of the season with neither a debilitating injury nor a stated purpose.
“It’s tough,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “But what should we say to him?”
On Monday, Strasburg walked into the Washington clubhouse to find the MLB Network pumping on the TVs. As if to greet him upon arrival, the announcer was saying, “. . . and the Nats begin life without Stephen Strasburg.”
“Two seconds?” Strasburg said. He rolled his eyes and quickly shook his head.