Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo made the decision long ago to limit Stephen Strasburg to between 160 and 180 innings this season, to protect his right arm as he pitches in his first full season after ligament-replacement surgery. Rizzo is thinking about the long-term interest of the franchise and trying to protect the precious future of a 24-year-old with unbounded potential.
Inside the Nationals’ clubhouse, the decision is understood. It is also unpopular. Players live in the moment. They are aware that no matter how promising both Strasburg’s and the Nationals’ futures appear, they may never have another moment like this one. The notion of playoff baseball in Washington is becoming real. The Nationals have the best record in baseball and a legitimate chance to challenge for a World Series. And their front office, righteous in its belief, will ask them to play without their best pitcher.
How many innings does he have left?
The Post Sports Live crew talks about the effect Stephen Strasburg’s shutdown could have on the rest of the clubhouse down the stretch.
“I get their side,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “But our side is, the playoffs aren’t guaranteed. You don’t want to shut your best guy down — or one of your best guys, because we’ve got a bunch of them — if you’re never going to go back there. If I knew for the next two or three years we’re going to go back, then it’s probably an easy decision.
“From my side of it, I’m sure [Ryan Zimmerman], Jayson [Werth], [Mark DeRosa], guys who have been around a while, it’s tough to go out there and bust it every night, then turn around and have one of your best guys shut down. Are we going to pout about it? No. We’re not going to go yell at Rizzo or [Manager Davey Johnson]. No, it is what it is. It’ll be frustrating, but apparently we’re going to have to deal with it, because I think they’ve made up their minds.”
‘It’s a health question’
Even when Strasburg started five games last September, the Nationals were open about their plans for him. Rizzo has also been steadfast that circumstances — such as a playoff chase — will not alter them. Rizzo has changed his mind before based on new information. When the Nationals suffered myriad injuries in April, he called up Bryce Harper far before he expected. But Rizzo does not view Strasburg’s innings limit through a competitive prism.
“This is about health of a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery,” Rizzo said back in May. “It’s not a development issue like Harper. Timetables on development can change, just because players all develop at different rates in all different scenarios. To me, this is a longevity question. It’s a health question. It’s caring about the player and the person more so than the won-loss record.”
With the decision final, Nationals players find resolve in the strength of their rotation behind Strasburg. Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann are both aces. Edwin Jackson has top-shelf stuff and postseason experience. Ross Detwiler has shown flashes of being a top-of-the-rotation starter. John Lannan has delivered two stellar starts when called up from Class AAA Syracuse for double headers.
This is how the Nationals’ rotation is: If Strasburg’s 43 earned runs allowed over 1331
3 innings were removed, the Nationals’ rotation would have a 3.30 ERA, still the best in the majors.