Reports out of Florida on the first official day of the Washington Nationals' 2012 Spring Training, after pitchers and catchers reported yesterday, have D.C. GM Mike Rizzo reiterating that once 23-year-old right-hander Stephen Strasburg reaches his prescribed innings-limit in his first full-season back from Tommy John surgery, he will be shut down. No late starts to the season, no extended rests, no manipulation to keep him around for a potential late-season run at a post-season berth. When Strasburg reaches his limit (which will be around 150-160.0 innings according to Nats' skipper Davey Johnson via MASN's Pete Kerzel on Twitter @KerzelPete), the Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick will be done for the season regardless where the Nationals happen to be in the standings at that time.
"If we're lucky enough and improved enough to be playing meaningful games in September," D.C. GM Mike Rizzo said in an MLB Network Radio interview with hosts Kevin Kennedy and Jim Duquette this past September, "and [Strasburg's] pitch limits are up, just like Jordan Zimmermann this year, he will be done. We'll sit with our plan and we'll stick to it." In a conference call with reporters this winter the Nats' general manager said that though they hadn't arrived at a set number of innings "in concrete" as he put it, they had discussed , "... general parameters of what I think is something I would allow him to throw."
Rizzo wouldn't tell reporters when Strasburg would be shut down or how many innings total he would pitch then, explaining that, "... there's strategy that's employed in it and we don't want people to know our business, but we have a good idea of the parameters of where we want [Strasburg] to throw, and we'll adhere to those parameters. Like I said, it's nothing in concrete because we want to see how he comes to Spring Training, how he feels and how he develops throughout the season." Davey Johnson too explained that he was on board with the plans, telling the D.C. press corps, "I'm going with the medical experts," when he was asked about how he'd handle the Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick. "Whatever they think is the best thing to do,' Johnson said, "I know that what I saw at the end of the year, I saw a very healthy Stephen Strasburg. He reminded me of a guy that didn't look like he'd ever been injured."
Strasburg told reporters, including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman, that after a year of rehab, a short stint in the minors and five starts and 24.0 IP with the Nationals last September over which he walked just two and struck out 24 while posting a 1.50 ERA and a 1.28 FIP, he's arrived at Spring Training 100% healthy and ready to put the past behind him. "'It feels like it almost never happened,'" Mr. Zuckerman quoted Strasburg stating. The fact that it feels like nothing ever happened is immaterial of course.
The Nationals will treat Strasburg just like they treated Jordan Zimmermann last season in his first full year back following Tommy John surgery in 2009. "'There's not going to be a whole lot of tinkering going on,'" Rizzo told the Washington Times' Amanda Comak this morning, as quoted in an article entitled, "Nationals won't manipulate Strasburg's innings." "'We're going to run him out there until his innings are gone,'" Rizzo told reporters again this morning, "'and then stop him from pitching.'"
Humorously, the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore quoted an unnamed teammate today in his own story on Rizzo's comments about Strasburg entitled, "With Stephen Strasburg on an innings limit, the Nationals will not manipulate his schedule", who told the WaPost writer that Strasburg, "... would not be easily convinced to stop pitching during a playoff race. 'They’re going to have to lock him in a cage,' the player said.'" That reaction isn't unanticipated either, as the Nats' GM explained in a recent interview with ESPN980's Thom Loverro and Kevin Sheehan.
"I hope we're making that tough decision in September," Rizzo said when asked about having to potentially shut Strasburg down when things are heating up late this year, "That would be good, but the decision [has] already been made in my mind and we'll stick to it. And like this year with Jordan Zimmermann, it didn't make everybody happy, but I thought it was the right move, and I think that the move with Stras will be the right move also and probably won't make a lot of people happy either." Why do the Nationals keep restating their plans for Strasburg?
A) Because reporters keep asking for the sake of clarifying what's been said? B) Because the Nationals don't want it to be a surprise to fans who may have tuned out late last year or who have not been following every word they've said this winter? 3) Because no matter how many times they say it some people find it impossible to believe that a team everyone thinks finally has a chance to compete for a postseason berth, might have to make a run without their no.1 starter? Probably all of the above, but the Nationals have to think long-term.
There's little chance the Nats will even know their fate when Strasburg reaches his innings limit. Jordan Zimmermann reached his on August 28th, and that was after a few attempts to give him extra rest resulted in sub-par outings. The Nationals can't afford to think short-term with a talent as big as Strasburg's, can they? And looking at the big picture, with evidence to support it and a plan put together in conjunction with the doctors who performed Strasburg's surgery, they've made their decision and they're sticking with it, tough as it may eventually be to explain to their fans late this year.
• Previously on Federal Baseball:
• (ed. note - "Yes, I wrote A), B), 3) on purpose, I think that stuff is funny.")