By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 30, 2010; D01
The Washington Nationals placed 22-year-old phenom Stephen Strasburg on the 15-day disabled list because of an inflamed right shoulder before Thursday's game, eliminating any chance he will pitch Sunday and placing his remarkable rookie season on pause.
"They're taking every precaution with me," the right-hander said. "It's feeling great already. I'm making big strides. I'm just going to keep getting better, keep getting stronger, and when the time comes I'm going to be ready to go."
Because Strasburg has not pitched since July 21 and his DL stint is retroactive, he could return to the rotation as soon as Aug. 6. That seems unlikely given the necessary caution the Nationals are taking. Strasburg, though, will travel with the Nationals and believes he could pitch again shortly after he is eligible.
"That's what they told me," Strasburg said.
The Nationals believe Strasburg will return before the end of the season. "Absolutely," Manager Jim Riggleman said. They will also continue with utmost prudence in protecting Strasburg's right arm.
"If he's 90 percent healthy, we shut him down," Riggleman said. "He's got to be 100 percent. If there's any negativity that comes out of his voice, from his words, from the doctor, the trainer, Steve McCatty, any information we get that is negative, he's not pitching. But if everything is positive, then he's going to pitch."
The Nationals, Riggleman said, will not be motivated to pitch Strasburg in order to raise his potential innings limit for next season. Strasburg will be capped at 160 total innings this season, a 20 percent increase from last year's total. The Nationals will make the same rate of increase for next season. So if Strasburg only throws a handful of innings, the Nationals will have to shut him down in the middle of next season.
"But that would be okay," Riggleman said. "We'll take that. That's not really a concern. You know, you can't put him out there at less than 100 percent to build up his innings so that you can pitch him more next year. You might have him less next year if you did that. That will be way down on the priority list."
Although Riggleman said on an MLB Network XM radio show Thursday morning that Strasburg will be shut down for about 10 days, he told reporters that Strasburg might play catch Saturday if his shoulder continues to feel better.
Despite the overall cautious approach, the Nationals will not hold Strasburg back if he returns to 100 percent.
"If he's healthy and you don't pitch him, what purpose does that serve?" Riggleman said. "He's not learning anything. He's not 60 feet 6 inches watching how hitters are reacting to swings against him. He's not getting a catalog of information about them, and he's 100 percent healthy. That doesn't really make any sense.
"If he's 100 percent, this is a competitive situation. You're supposed to be trying to win. If you've got a guy that's 100 percent healthy and hasn't reached any innings limits and so forth and he's ready to go and you're not pitching him, the integrity of the game is there a little bit. If I've got a guy who's 100 percent healthy and he's scheduled to pitch against the Cardinals and I don't pitch him, if I'm the Reds, I'm thinking, 'What's going on? We're competing with the Cardinals, but you're going to shut your big boy down against them? He pitched against us.'
"Our first priority is to take care of Stephen Strasburg for the future of this organization. How many innings he ends up with is not the priority. In that case, if you've got a guy who is 100 percent healthy, it's hard to justify not pitching him."
The Nationals have not decided on a starter for Sunday, although Miguel Batista seems to be the leading candidate. Jason Marquis, who made a rehab start Wednesday night, would have to pitch on three days rest and "I don't think we'll do that," Riggleman said.
Batista made the emergency start in Strasburg's place Tuesday, pitching five scoreless innings and leading the Nationals to a 3-0 victory. The Nationals may have to use Batista in relief over the next three games, and if they do they will have to cull Sunday's starter from the minor leagues. Batista's performance Tuesday night engendered support for Batista within the clubhouse.
"He deserves to make that start," one Nationals player said. "He pitched good. He pitched really good."