March 20, 2012; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (37) during the spring training game against the New York Mets at Digital Domain Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE
How can you possibly make your first run at a postseason berth without your ace? Why wouldn't you just start him late so that he'll be available in September? Seriously, you're going to shut Stephen Strasburg down? It's a topic we've discussed before but it keeps coming up and it will continue to, especially if the Washington Nationals are actually playing meaningful game late this season as they hope to. But it's a question Nats' GM Mike Rizzo has answered consistently all along. Stephen Strasburg will be shut down when he reaches his innings limit. The Nationals aren't saying what that limit is but it's assumed it will be around the same 160 innings Jordan Zimmermann threw last year (161.1 IP actually) in his own first full-year back from Tommy John surgery.
"If we're lucky enough and improved enough to be playing meaningful games in September," the Nats' GM explained to 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." Rizzo later admitted in another interview that he knew the Nationals were going to be criticized for the decision, but he stood firm in saying that nothing would deter them from sticking to their plan, telling ESPN980's Thom Loverro and Kevin Sheehan, that it was a tough decision last year with Zimmermann too, and, "... 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."
Just last week the topic came up again when MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Duquette and Mike Ferrin visited Space Coast Stadium and spoke to the Nationals' general manager. "We're not going put a clear and concise number of innings," Rizzo told them when asked how long Strasburg would pitch, "We're going to watch him, we're going to evaluate him, but where we're at in the standings in September is not going to dictate what we do with this guy. Hopefully we'll be playing some meaningful games at the end of the season, but if we feel that he's had enough he'll be shut down just like [Jordan Zimmermann] was last year when he got to his limits."
"I thought that [Zimmermann] had enough," Rizzo continued, "And we just shut him down. We feel that's the prudent thing to do. It upsets some people. It upset Jordan last year because these guys are competitive, they want to play, but I feel what's best for Jordan Zimmermann, what's best for Stephen Strasburg and any other of our young core players is what's best for the Nationals, so I have to do what's best for us and shutting down Stephen Strasburg is the prudent thing to do. It will be done no matter what, and we'll just take the heat as it comes."
"Sounds like you're already ready for it," Jim Memolo joked as the interview ended.
Good thing the Nationals are ready for it, because here it comes. A year-plus after the Nationals first made their plans clear and after reiterating their thinking in making the decision time and time again over the last few months, some people still can't believe the Nationals would even think about doing it. FOXSports.com's Jon Morosi (@JonMorosi) brought the subject up this afternoon while discussing whether or not Strasburg could be labeled an "ace" with just 92.0 major league innings on his resume so far:
As an aside, #Nats fans should be offended if he’s shut down in the middle of a pennant race. This is the major leagues.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) April 2, 2012
If you want to keep Strasburg on a hard innings limit, (a) keep him in the minors or (b) tell your fans you have no plans to compete.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) April 2, 2012
Davey Johnson has said that a pennant is the goal. Rizzo's said "meaningful games" in September. Does shutting Strasburg down like the Nats shut Zimmermann down mean the Nationals have "no plans to compete"? They've got starters like Chien-Ming Wang, Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen on hand to take over when Strasburg's eventually shut down. None of those pitchers are going to be confused with Strasburg, of course, but the Nationals could also (if they're in contention) trade for a pitcher or bring an arm up from the system.
Are the Nationals doing the right thing we Stephen Strasburg? There's been a difference of opinion here in the past. With the season now set to start and Strasburg set to pitch on Opening Day, have you changed your opinion? Is Mr. Morosi right?