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Stephen Strasburg: Headed to the disabled list

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Tuesday, August 24, 2010; 11:00 AM

Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Tuesday, Aug. 24, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest on Stephen Strasburg, now headed for the disabled list, this time with a forearm/elbow injury suffered Saturday night in Philadelphia. An MRI exam taken Sunday, while ultimately inconclusive, gave the team enough cause for concern to shut him down, at least temporarily, and order a more detailed exam.

Latest column: Washington Nationals should shut down Stephen Strasburg for the season

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Shutting Him Down - Implications for Next Year?: Tom,

I understand your argument to take it easy on him and shut Strasburg down for the rest of the year. But if the Nationals do so, doesn't that have implications for the number of innings he can pitch next season? If they keep to the formula of increasing his innings by 20 percent, doesn't that put a cap on his innings somewhere around 160, just like it was supposed to be this season? Wouldn't it make sense to get him some more innings so he can pitch more next year?

Thomas Boswell: Yes, you're correct. That's a concern on the Nats part. It's the first point a Nats exec mentioned to me when I said I thought shutting him down looked like it might be wise. "It won't just cost him innings this year, but the next two years, also."

Teams have a tendency to get handcuffed by their own theories at times. Strasburg currently has 119 innings this year in the majors and minors. With the Nats +20%-a-year rule of thumb, that would max him out out at 143 IP in '11 and 171 in '12 and he wouldn't be over 200 IP until '13 when he is 24 on Opening Day.

By getting to 160-162 this year, they wanted (and probably still want) to get him close to 200 innings in '11 and as many as they want, even 230+ in '12 so he can start all those Nats post-season games, too. (That's mordant Nat humor, I guess.)

Oh, how horrible _he won't get to 200 IP until '13. Think of the lost opportunity in '11 and '12 to.... Well, to do what? Go to the World Series? Sorry, I don't think so. A chance to make more money lost for the Nats? Well, there's that. But they are going to be well ahead of the $15.1-million they pay him if he just makes 12 home starts in '11 and 15 in '12.

Some guesstimate that each Strasburg home start brings in an extra $975K to the Nats. (To figure it out yourself, the average "spend" for a Nats customers for a game is supposedly $54. Then add Strasburg gear. I'd guess that, as the mania has calmed down, that Strasburg is perhaps worth more than $700K/game.

However, I think the long-term health of Strasburg's arm is just much, much more important. Besides, the first time he was on the DL he pitched a simulated game and kept throwing while on the DL. I'd say he's pitched under incredible stress this season with all the national attention and that his 120 IP may be like 160 IP for a normal obscure. I know that Rizzo believes that "highly stressed" innings, especially for a rookie, should count as more than one inning. Let him hit 160 innings next year and 200 in '12, imo. This "innings progression" stuff is mostly a mix of common sense and magic.

I'll be curious/anxious to see what the results are of the SECOND MRI that the Nats how have scheduled for Thursday. What did they see in the first one that made them want to have another more sophisticated one to "get a better luck" after the swelling went down. Oh, there was swelling? Doesn't sound so minor to me.

The trip to the DL makes it seem likely to me that if anything shows up on the second MRI, they'll shut him down. But if it is absolutely "clean," then they may actually bring him back for those final 3-4-5 starts.

This guy was throwing 98 mph in mid-February in spring training. Why would you want to keep pushing him back until he's still making MLB starts more than SEVEN months later deep in September?

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El Segundo, Calif.: Tom, every summer at this time we get reminded of how much better the Ravens are compared to the 'Skins. Better starters, better depth and better special teams. All signs of a much more efficiently run organization. You'd think Snyder would at least like to be the best pro team playing in Maryland. Thanks.

Thomas Boswell: The Redskins may not pay much attention to the Ravens, but the Ravens are quite aware of the Skins, aren't terribly fond of them and are always delighted to underline that they have been the more successful and better-run team, especially in the last 10 years.

Would the fake punt and all the blitzs be, in part, the Ravens sending a little message to the Skins? I think so. Is it also a natural part of the Ravens style? Sure.

McNabb is lucky if he got away without an injury. His left ankle (now in that walking brace yesterday when he missed practice) was cerumpled under him when he was sacked by Elerbe (untouched) and McClain (barely touched). Also, the 250-lb McClain had another completely free run at McNabb later in the half and hit him right under the chin. It was a concussion waiting to happen.

That 23-3 loss underlined, for me, what fans should expect of the Redskins this year. Beat the bad teams like Buffalo __6-10 last year. Probably still lose to the good teams like Baltimore __9-7 last year. But the Skins have far more games against teams like the Ravens than they do against weak sisters (only four lock "wins").

The Skins are an improved team. Vastly better coached with Mike S. For two years, I called Zorn the Coach From Another Planet and joked that his post-game press conferences could be translated as, "That's not the way we did it when I was growing up on Pluto." The 6-2 start in '08 and the nice guy image (which was true) protected him until the Lions loss last year. In a period of about two weeks he went from "suspect credibility" to "how could we not have seen that this guy doesn't have a clue about being a head coach." After that, the Skins treated him so brutally that he became an object of sympathy. Why bother to point out that he can't coach when everybody knows he's already as good as fired? So, that upgrade should help.

Also, McNabb is special and, as long as they can keep him upright and playing, he's probably going to get them from 4 wins to 6-7-8 wins. But I think it's very unrealistic, especially in light of an abnormally tough schedule, to expect more than a best case scenario of 8-8. How on earth were the Skins favored by 3 1/2 over the Ravens?

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Arlington Nats Fan: What's the biggest hole you'd fill on the off-season? Adam Dunn has to be re-signed or replaced; that's obvious. Do you pencil in Espinosa at second? What do you with center and right? Where would you spend the Lerner's money?

Thomas Boswell: Dunn should be resigned. The sooner the better. He's in a slump now and looks as bad as he can look. That may make it easier.

Espinosa and Desmond will probably be the middle-infield combo next year, if not on Opening Day then by mid-season. The last six weeks will show a lot about whether they need to spend for an OF. The free agent market, except for Carl Crawford and Jason Werth, is very weak this year. And, with 90+ loses again, it's tough to see the Nats landing either of them.

Those who want to spend the Lerner's money, including me, are probably going to have to work on trades that add payroll.

All this is another reason that you want to resign the core players from '10 who want to come back __Dnn and Livan Hernandez.

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Atlanta, Ga.: I'm so interested to hear what you thought of Rob Dibble's comments...in general, in particular (to the Nats and Strasburg).

washingtonpost.com: Rob Dibble to Stephen Strasburg: "Suck it up" (D.C. Sports Bog, Aug. 23)

Thomas Boswell: Seems like he had a momentary Nats-career death wish.

You'd never guess from listening to Dibble that he had a 21-21 career record with a 4.18 ERA and 18 saves. That's not 18 saves in a season, but in his career. He threw hard and struck out a lot of guys. And he played a key roll on a few very good teams. But your stats are your stats.

So, a 4.18 ERA pitcher is blasting Strasburg, calling him out. Please. Just tell us some more about your high-school soccer career. How man times does that subject get dragged in.

Sorry, that's too harsh. Last season, I was 50-50 on him. Thought he was lots of fun at times. And I could overlook the outlandish or just-plain-wrong. When you have to talk for 3 hours you're going to say a lot of semi-dumb or incorrect things in every game. I can't imagine how many I would say! This year, I've gradually, and grudgingly, gone to turn-off-the-audio mode on the TV most of the time. He says some good things and is a character. But he tries so hard to say something to stir things up that he swings and misses a lot. I'd never have mentioned him here except that the Strasburg rant was so extensive that you just can't ignore it. Sorry.

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Arlington, Va.: Is it just coincidence that the Mystics win their division the year that Leonsis got rid of those attendance champion banners?

Thomas Boswell: Now that's karma at work. Less is more.

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Nearly 10 pitches per out: Hi Bos:

Can you recall seeing a pitcher laboring as much as Livo was last night being left in so long? He averaged 26 pitches for each of the first four innings, then needed another 17 to get one out in the fifth before Rigs came and got him. I initially thought he was tossing the ball away in frustration before realizing he was giving it to the Cubbies (his rookie counterpart ended his evening with his first-ever Major League hit).

Thomas Boswell: Twice this year, and only twice, Livan has had really bad games. Both times Riggleman has left him in much too long to act as an innings eater. Unfortunately, Livan's role is NOT innings eater on this team. It is ACE. And leaving him in to get creamed, and use up tons of pitches, when you should be saving him for his starts the rest of the season is not good managing, imo. One of the reasons Livan has worn so well this season is that he's averaged only 99 pitches per start. (That shows that the 95-pitch limit on Strasburg didn't have to take him out of games so early. Livo is averaging less than 100 and on pace for>215 IP.)

Take care of Livo. Don't abuse him. He should never have come out for the fifth inning. No arm is REALLY made out of "rubber."

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Norfolk, Va.: Boz -- If Strasburg proves as fragile as it now appears and was correctly considered the ace of the future pitching staff in Rizzo/Kasten plan "A", what is plan "B"?

Thomas Boswell: Strasburg hasn't even had a real "injry" yet that's worthy of the name. Just an inflamed shoulder and a forearm-elbow "tweak." If the next MRI shows more, then we'll talk again. (But I hope not.)

Strasburg is going to be a very-good-to-great pitcher as long as he stays in one piece. here's nothing __yet__ to say he won't have a long career. But, at least, you can now see why I wrote so much last year about the bad history of No. 1-overall draft picks that were used on pitchers. It's the reason Strasburg's fair price was $15M, not $25M (or $50M).

Don't rush to Plan B. But part of Plan A or Plan B will be on display on Thursday night when Jordan Zimmermann makes his comeback from Tommy John surgery. He's certainly got No. 3 starter stuff, command and toughness. Will he become more than that? Like a Roy Oswalt eventually? Don't know. That's why we watch the games.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Tom,

Is the Post ever going to cover the major foreign soccer leagues or is this too much to hope for? Interest in the EPL, La Liga and Serie A in the D.C. area is strong, and I can't help but think the Post is missing some low hanging fruit. Maybe just a once per week round up.

Thomas Boswell: Interesting. My son follows European and well as U.S. soccer and so do his friends. I suspect the logical place for that, if we ever decided there was sufficient interest to do it, would be at washingtonpost.com.

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Burke, Va.: Hi Tom,

What can/should the Nats learn from the Twinkies? Man, there has to be some great things to emulate from a small market team that seems to always be competitive if not outright winners year in and year out!

Thomas Boswell: The Twins are amazing. And they have enough extra talent in the pipeline that they can trade a true catching prospect like Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps to help them in the playoff race.

Actually, Rizzo is a team-builder along this same lines. He's very patient and seldom overvalues what he has on hand. But this method takes time.

At the beginning of this year, when there was talk of .500 from some Nats players, I wrote that I thought the Nats could improve by a dozen wins and that'd be a lot. (71-91). I tried to point out that to get to .500 the Nats would have to win 22 more games and that only happened (from memory) to about 3% of all teams. The team's current bad play is just another painful reminder that, once you're lost 205 games in two years, it's truly been established that you are an awful team. The distance from awful to mediocre usually takes years to cross.

However, a lot of "pieces" have turned up this year that look like Twins-type moves: Strasburg, Storen, Desmond, Bernadina, Morse, Ramos, the return of Zimmermann, maybe Maya. But it takes 2-3-4 years for young players to reach their prime, not 1 or even 2.

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Dibble had 89 saves: While I don't particularly care for Rob Dibble, you got all of his career stats wrong. He had 89 saves in 7 seasons with a 2.98 career ERA.

Rob Dibble(BaseballReference.com)

Thomas Boswell: A million thanks. I had my baseball-reference set to minor league stats nd those were Dibble's minor league numbers. "I'm sorry" 100 times to Mr., Dibble. Those MLB saves come hard. And the 2.98 ERA is exceptional.

Dibble also averagd 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings, which is exactly what Strasburg has averaged this season. So, in that sense, he's the right guy to comment on a hard thrower with tons of K's.

There's lots that's good about the chat format. But the 100 times greater chance to get something wrong is the downside. So, I'm glad to get that straight in the same chat. Mea culpa.

However, the comments about his work as an announcer, good and bad, are still mine. And they don't depend on his stats.

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Port Deposit, Md.: You are so right about Strasburg: Shut him down! To contrarians like Bunning and Dibble, blame it on the Nats. The guy wants to pitch, but we are not going to let him.

I'm old enough to remember Jim Palmer in the early years. Of course, he has nowhere near Strasburg's hype, and most of us considered him a flash in the pan after his injury-shortened '67 and '6 8 seasons.

However, he coddled himself into a HOF career. Naturally this drove Weaver crazy. He'd talk about "the year of the ulna nerve," "the year of whatever."

In contrast, Mike Flanagan pitched his way through everything. Remember his pitching with that heavy brace on his leg? While Flanny had a very nice career, I don't think anyone would disagree that Palmer made the more lasting contribution.

Of course, so much goes into this. Mental and physical make-up. Is the team in a pennant race. (NO) But caution sure seems the way to go in these case. Keep up the good work!

Thomas Boswell: The Palmer/Flanagan story is a perfect one. Palmer "knew his body." In part because he'd had those early injuries. Was he a bit extreme? Did he drive Earl and others crazy? Yes. But he "protected himself" all the way to the HOF and pitched tons of innings in his many prime years.

Flanagan was a third-generation professional pitcher and completely bought into the old-school tough-it-out view on baseball. He hated to let the team down, always took the ball and, in some years, took it when he probably shouldn't have. He won a Cy Young when young and would have had a much better (stat) career if he'd reported more injuries, taken longer to heal and not always put the team first. But he was one of the most popular and respected pitchers of his time and his toughness was central to the last chunk of the O's 23-year dynasty as the team with the best MLB winning percentage.

At Strasburg's level of talent/potential, I think you'd want him to be more like Palmer.

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Rob Dibble: Ummm.... I think you underestimate his stats a bit.

Career Stats (MLB)

27 Wins, 89 saves, a 2.95 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP in 477 career innings.

He was a very effective pitcher for the first 5 years of his career.

Thomas Boswell: When you get something wrong once, why not correct yourself twice. Those are the right Dibble stats.

Dibble never babied himself, that's for sure. But his last good year was also at age 28. After that, never an ERA under 6.28. That's part of the price of being a team-first tough guy.

There's a middle ground on this. That's where I'd like to see Strasburg. In two years, by second half of '12, it's time to let him go, no training wheels.

Do you folks think that, perhaps, the Giants wish they had used Tim Lincecum just a little less in his early years? He struck out 265 and 261 men in seasons in which he was 23 and 24 on Opening Day. Now, he's topping out at 91 m.p.h., not 95. The Giants are talking about how he'll need to learn to be "a different kind of pitcher." Ooops. Flanagan had to learn that, too.

When/if Strasburg gets to the point where he is pitching 225 and 227 IP, as Lincedum did in his Cy Young years, Strasburg is probably going to be striking out about 305-310 men if he keeps up at his rate from this season.

I want to see those Strasburg seasons. And if, by shutting him down this season, those years arrive one season further in the future, then that's good by me. Because I'd also like to see him have a full career like Palmer and Mussina.

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Durango, Colo.: I guess I could understand Dibble if Strasburg took himself out. However, didn't he try to stay in? Wasn't it McCatty and Riggleman who came to the mound unasked and then took him out? How is this Strasburg being "soft"? If the Nats want to coddle him and tell him he can't pitch, there isn't going to be much he can do about it, right?

Thomas Boswell: Obviously a good point. Looked like Strasburg called them out, then maybe had second thoughts when the original scary feeling subsided. He really, really wants to be one of the guys, a normal player/person (as much as possible), so I'm sure this makes him crazy.

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Washington, D.C.: Is the best case scenario with Strasburg's DL trips, a simple case of his body wearing down after a long season at a young age?

Can we hope that he'll be a little stronger next year and make it further than 120 IP?

Or is it more likely that this strain is a sign of things to come?

How often do young pitchers suffer from arm strains and go on to have healthy, Tommy John surgery free careers?

Thomas Boswell: Since Strasburg came on the horizon I've spent a lot of time looking at promising careers by power pitchers. My sense is that the brutally short careers and the 20-year careers are about equally rare for true "phenom" pitchers who are well-known within the game by the day they make the majors. However, the "norm" __the majority__is that you are productive to very productive through your 20's, then lose some stuff at 30-32.

The most likely outcome, imo, is that over the '11-to-'16 span, while he's still under Nats contrrol, Strasburg will probably win 80-to-100 games. Of course, there could be 100 different outcomes. But when people start screaming that "he's finished" or that he's going to be the "best ever," I try to remind myself of all those "in-between" careers by high draft picks or early-career Cy winners that produced a lot even though they won't go to Cooperstown __J.R. Richard, Gooden, Benes, Fernando, Flanagan, etc.

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Padres: So, the comparison...Padres are pushing Matt Latos back from Wed to Friday this week. At what point would you shut him down?

Thomas Boswell: Man, are they going to have a tough decision. Mat Latos pitched 122 IP last year in minors and majors and is up to 143 IP this year with a 2.30 ERA. As I've said, he's Don Drysdale with tattoos. And the Pads are probably going to the post-season, too.

Latos and Mike Leake with the Reds are the Strasburg comparables mentioned most often, though Latos came up through the minors from age 19. Look at Leake, taken eigth overall last year in the draft. The Reds moved him fast to MLB and he was getting compared to a young Maddox when his ERA was 2.22 in June 5th when he bets the Nats.

Since then. Leake has gotten hit hard with a 5.68 ERA in his last 12 starts. He lasted only 49 pitches in his last start. This is exactly what you don't want to se in a rookie year. Leake is at 138 IP this year. Do you shut him down? Then do you have to cut him off at 165 IP next year (20% more)? And what if the 1st-place Reds make the playoffs?

We're going to be watching the Strasburg-Latos-Leake comparisons for a few years.

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Dribble: Great, he actually could pitch. And you know what, I don't expect him to be a homer all the time. But his Strasburg rant is written hysterically, and must include references to himself. But he is also a horrible commentator. Horrible. I listen to the radio, TV off, most of the time...because HE is unlistenable. He is a bitter, self-absorbed malcontent. No thanks. From a WOMAN baseball fan.

Thomas Boswell: He has his fans, too. I meet perfectly sensible people who not only like him but, in these frustrating seasons, enjoy his color and spice.

You'd be amazed how much more people like announcers (and columnists) when local teams are winning championships than when they are 4-12 in the NFL or 20 games under .500 in August in baseball. Nerves get raw.

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Markin21132: Whenever the talk turns to pitchers throwing too many pitches or too many innings, I think of Tom Cheney. Perhaps his career would have lasted longer if he had not pitched that one 16 inning game.

Thomas Boswell: Maybe. But he also threw a lot of knuckleballs. (Easier on the arm.)

As a little kid, I had to go to eat dinner in the middle of that game, then got back to the radio in time to hear the last strikeouts on the way to the all-time record 21Ks!

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Bridgewater: Will the O's have a winning September -- could they be next year's Padres?

Thomas Boswell: No, I don't think they are the Pads. San Diego has the deepest hard-throwing bullpen I think I've seen. And their team style, built entirely on pitching and especially power pitching, not only suits their personnel but the entire division that they play in. The Pads park is huge. But so is S.F. and Dodger Stadium is the pitcher's park, too. The only way to survive in Colorado, even though it's not the hitter's haven it used to be, is to thrown fastballs or sinkers because curves don't break as well at that altitude. So, the Pads staff is suited to 81 home games and almost 30 other in-division road games.

And they play excellent defense.

However, the O's are finally healthy and have gotten a spark from Buck. They'll have to finish 19-18 to avoid 100 loses __off the top of my head. With so many A.L. East games left, I doubt they'll make it. But now they are enjoyable to watch.

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Riggleman's future: Bos, the Nats are on course to win 68 games now. I would argue that they're slightly better than that, probably a 73- win team. While I think most of the blame falls on the players for inconsistent play, but doesn't Jim Riggleman start to catch some heat? Is his seemingly low key style too "soft" for this team?

Thomas Boswell: Managers are judged by their team's record and Riggleman will be, too. Lannan, Marquis, Olsen, Zimmermann and Hernandez isn't a bad rotation for September. The Nats like to keep people in place for a long time, not fire GM's and managers. They want to be a stable team. So, I suspect that they will try to be patient with Riggleman.

Thanks again. See you all next week.

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Carlos Pena for Adam Dunn?: FWIW, mlbtraderumors.com, citing reporting from the Chicago Sun-Times and Ben Goessling with MASN, stated today the Cubs could be interested in Adam Dunn if he's available in the offseason. Dunn talked about how much he likes hitting in Wrigley Field (and who doesn't?). Goessling reported that it didn't look like the Nats were interested in giving Dunn a multi-year contract but were "in love" with Carlos Pena of Tampa.

Admittedly, Pena's a much better fielder at 1B than Dunn (I'M a much better fielder than Dunn), but let's look at his hitting stats for the last four years:

BA: .282, .247, .227, .213 OBP: .411, .377, .356, .338 SLG: .627, .494, .537, .439

Bos, I don't know about you but, where I come from, that's what we call a downward trend.

Would this move make any sense?

Thomas Boswell: None whatsoever. Except that Pena is a Boras client and he'd get good money in D.C.

However, Pena is from Haverhill, Mass., my wife's home town. He's a real good guy, so I'm sure I'd enjoy talking to him.

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washingtonpost.com: ADVISORY: Tom Boswell will return next week to chat at his regular day and time -- Thursday at 11. There will be no Thursday chat this week. See you next week.

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