Monday morning, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo walked into Davey Johnson’s office, a thick stack of papers in his hands. Pitching coach Steve McCatty emerged in the clubhouse and motioned for Stephen Strasburg to join him in the manager’s office.
The three Nationals officials held their most formal meeting yet with Strasburg to discuss the shutdown they mapped out him. Yesterday, Johnson announced Strasburg would make two more starts before the Nationals end his season, the final start planned for Sept. 12 in New York. Today, they filled Strasburg in and had “a nice little conversation,” Johnson said.
After he struck out nine Cardinals in six scoreless innings yesterday, Strasburg said he looked forward to a “sit-down” with Nationals brass. The confab came this morning.
“Well,” Johnson said, “he hates McCatty more than he did before the meeting. And me. And Rizzo.”
Johnson paused to let the joke sink in, and then outlined the clear meaning behind it.
“It’s no secret that Stras is an intense competitor,” Johnson said. “Wants to be here. Wants to be contributing. Wants to be healthy. And I’m sure it’s probably eating him up more than anybody involved in this whole thing. Because he wants to be here and help his teammates. He’s worked harder than anybody coming back from that surgery. This is what you dream about being a part of. I know how he feels.”
Strasburg has mostly held his thoughts to himself. On some level, he surely understands the Nationals want to protect him, and that an increase from the 44 total innings he pitched in 2011 to a full season would be a high risk.
But his desire to help his teammates seemingly overrides that. Ever since he arrived in the Nationals’ clubhouse, an avalanche of hype behind him and a record signing bonus in his pocket, he has been wary of seeming apart from teammates. Yesterday, he twice repeated the phrase, “I want to fight with them until the end.”
“Stephen wants to pitch,” said Scott Boras, Strasburg’s agent, who has publicly backed the Nationals’ decision. “When you’re a competitive athlete, you want to perform. On the other side of it is, the doctor saved his career. He’s very beholden to the doctor. When you’re smart like Stephen Strasburg is, your competitive desire in the whole thing has to pay credence to medical science.”
Strasburg has worked to avoid the constant debate surrounding the innings limit, no matter how difficult. This morning, Strasburg played catch in left field at Nationals Park, his usual day-after routine. MLB Network highlights played on the enormous scoreboard hovering over him. The host detailed Strasburg’s shutdown. A “Strasometer” displayed the innings he has pitched this year. Strasburg never looked over his left shoulder.
During his press conference, Johnson was asked if Strasburg came out of the meeting with an understanding.
“Probably not,” Johnson said. “I’m not sure any of us understand. But it’s the right thing to do.
“The way I look at things, the job that the Lerners and the front office have done building this organization, I don’t look at things as this is the only chance you’re going to get to be in the postseason or to be in the World Series. This team wasn’t just piece together for one year. It’s built to last, and we’re trying to make sure it lasts.”
Finally, Johnson refuted the notion that the Nationals could have or should have altered Strasburg’s schedule this season in order to stretch him into the fall.
“He’s not a number five starter. He’s a number one starter,” Johnson said. “It’s more detrimental and haphazard to miss a start, push him back, push him back. That’s more dangerous for the health of a pitcher. It’s his first full year in the big leagues. It’s a big increase in innings. There’s tons of records to validate this decision.”