February 26, 2012; Melbourne, FL, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (37) during today's spring training workouts at Space Coast Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE
In a mid-October conference call with the D.C. press corps, Washington Nationals' general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters that team hadn't yet decided "in concrete," as he put it, how many innings 23-year-old right-hander Stephen Strasburg would throw in 2012. "I have general parameters of what I think is something I would allow him to throw," the GM said, before explaining that he wasn't, "... going to disclose it to anybody because, obviously, 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."
Strasburg told ESPN's Tim Kurkjian last week when Baseball Tonight visited the Nationals' Spring Training home that he knew he'd have an innings limit and though he admitted, "I don't like to have the reins put on me," he said, "I know that they have my best interest in mind, but a lot can change, so I'm just going to go into the season ready to answer the bell every time they ask and I'm going to give it everything I've got until they take the ball out of my hands." When exactly the Nationals will take the ball out of Strasburg's hands they still aren't saying...
While ESPN.com's Mr. Kurkjian had mentioned a 160-inning limit in his conversation with the right-hander, when CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler spoke to the Nats' GM for an article published Tuesday entitled, "Strasburg's 2012 limits are to be determined", Rizzo told the CBSSports' reporter, "... that while people have assumed that Strasburg will be limited to 160 innings," since it's close to the 161.1 IP Jordan Zimmermann threw in 2011 in his first full-year back following Tommy John surgery in late 2009, "... the actual number won't be determined until later in the season."
Before Zimmermann's 26 starts and 161.1 IP in 2011, he threw 39.2 innings in the Nationals' system as he rehabbed in 2010, and threw 31.0 innings at the major league level providing more of a foundation in his recovery than Strasburg got this year when he threw 20.1 IP with the Nats' affiliates and 24.0 innings in the nation's capital and one start in Florida. The Nats' GM says in the CBSSports.com article that 69-year-old skipper Davey Johnson, a 15-year veteran on the bench in his second career after thirteen years as a major league infielder, will be in control of how Strasburg's used on a day-to-day basis.
Strasburg explained to the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore last week that he'd watched closely how his fellow right-hander Jordan Zimmermann had handled pitching on an inning-limit last year and, as he said, "'The one thing I learned from Jordan and what I’m going to try to incorporate is that I don’t expect myself and I don’t want to go out there and say, 'Oh, I know they’re going to take me out this inning because I’m only throwing this many innings this year,' Strasburg said. 'I’m going to go out until they take the ball out of my hand.'"
Johnson told reporters last summer that he'd dealt with players differently in the past and adapted to the way recovering pitchers are handled today. "Those decisions really were solely up to me when I had young pitchers. Not over-taxing them early and letting them go as long as I felt like they were not having a problem between starts." If there were issues, Johnson said, they would, "...kind of skip starts and try to get them to the end. But I've never had a doctor say X number of innings."
Though the Nats haven't told anyone how many innings Strasburg will throw, he will be limited, a fact that Davey Johnson accepts as he told reporters this winter. "I'm going with the medical experts," Johnson said, "Whatever they think is the best thing to do." ESPN.com's Tim Kurkjian found it hard to believe Strasburg would be shut down if the Nationals were in a race for a postseason berth, and CBSSports.com's Mr. Knobler too said that though the Nats were willing to shut Zimmermann down when he was done, "Of course, last year the Nationals were 22 1/2 games out of first place by that point," and, he wrote, "This year, they expect to be much closer to the top."
"'[Manager Davey Johnson] has absolutely no limits on how many innings or how many pitches [Strasburg can throw],'" the Nats' GM told the CBSSports.com reporter, "'Davey's going to use his expertise,'" and when the pitcher reaches his prescribed limit he'll be shut down. Johnson told reporters last week (as quoted in an AP/Yahoo! Sports article) that he'd expect Strasburg to throw 150-160 innings. As Rizzo told reporters in Florida last week there won't be any "tinkering" with Strasburg, no late start to the season, no skipping starts to try to extend the pitcher later into the season. "'We’re going to run him out there until his innings are done.'" How many innings exactly? Folks will keep asking until there's an answer...