As Wednesday night bled into Thursday morning on the Nationals’ team plane, Manager Davey Johnson walked up to Stephen Strasburg and told him, “You got a few more to go.” Strasburg has insisted all season that no team officials had addressed his innings limit with him. Now, even if Johnson only casually brought it up, he has been told.
With September arriving this weekend and Strasburg sitting at 150 1/3 innings, the Nationals ace’s season will end within a handful of starts. Johnson said he and the Nationals have “a pretty firm plan” in place for Strasburg’s season to end.
“He’s probably got two or three,” Johnson said. “I said something to him on the plane last night – ‘You got a few more to go.’ So he doesn’t think going out there thinking that, ‘This may be my last one.’ And no, I’m not going to drag it out and give him seven days between starts, either.”
Johnson would not get any more specific than the “two or three” range. If Strasburg makes three more starts, his final outing would come Sept. 12 in New York against the Mets.
“It also depends,” Johnson said. “He might pitch 10 innings one game. Or he might just go five.”
The Nationals were concerned about performances like the one Strasburg produced Tuesday in Miami. His command was erratic and the Marlins scored seven runs off him (five earned) in five innings on nine hits. Johnson left Strasburg in for five innings, and checked about the decision with General Manager Mike Rizzo afterward.
“I said, ‘Rizz, did you want me to hook him after three and save some innings?’ ” Johnson said. “He said no. I left him out there. I thought it would be a learning experience to get roughed up.”
Johnson said the start, for him, did not raise any alarms about fatigue in Strasburg’s surgically repaired right arm. “No,” Johnson said. “He’s throwing the heck out of the ball.”
After his start, Strasburg stayed at Marlins Park late into the night talking with catcher Kurt Suzuki and bench coach Randy Knorr about what had gone wrong. “Stephen’s in a good place, too,” Johnson said. “He’s all right with it.”
An often overlooked part of the debate surrounding Strasburg’s shutdown is the inning increase. The Nationals decided to shut him down not because he had surgery two years ago, but because he threw only 44 innings last season, 20 of them in the majors. It is dangerous for a pitcher’s whole arm – not just a reconstructed elbow – to leap from such a small workload to a full season.
Strasburg has said he would hope to keep pitching all season. He said in a radio interview during the All-Star Game the Nationals would have to “rip the ball out my hands.” Back in May, Strasburg said this about his shutdown:
“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.”
Johnson brushed off any possible blowback he would receive from Strasburg.
“I’m the one that puts his name on the lineup card,” Johnson said. “It ain’t happening after the innings limit.”
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