After Davey Johnson made the announcement this morning that the Washington Nationals had decided to shut Stephen Strasburg down for the year after last night's rough outing against Miami, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo met with the media this afternoon to discuss the decision. "Davey and I discussed it yesterday post game," the general manager said, "And we wanted to give the opportunity to sleep on it and we came back this morning and mutually agreed that it was a prudent time to pull the plug on Stras and Davey told Stephen, but we're certainly all in agreement."
It wasn't just last night's outing, Rizzo explained, or the way Strasburg carried himself on the mound. "We've said all along," the GM told reporters, "that we've got past histories on these types of rehabilitations and surgeries and how they get back to play. [The] year after the Tommy John surgery is all-important. So we followed the protocol. We had parameters set in mind, and after yesterday's start we just figured that mentally and physically Stephen looked like he was fatigued, and decided, 'What's the difference of 159.1 innings or 163 or four or five and a third innings.' We said, 'Let's pull the plug today and move on with the season and try to finish the season off positively.'"
While Davey Johnson said that all the media hype and coverage was overwhelming and had become a distraction, Rizzo told reporters that it was not unexpected. "Well, Stephen Strasburg is one of the great major league pitchers there are and he's attracted a lot of attention since the day we drafted him." Asked if he was surprised at the how all the attention affected the pitcher, Rizzo said, "I think the accumulation of the focus problems and the physical fatigue I think took its toll on him and I think that what the doctors had prescribed for him, the innings parameters were right on and I think it was a prudent time to pull the plug and it was a plan we had from February 1st so I don't think too many people should be surprised by it."
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Though Davey Johnson stated clearly that it was his decision, he noted that he had spoken to both Rizzo and pitching coach Steve McCatty, and the Nats' GM reiterated that they were alll on the same page. "Davey saw what I saw yesterday," Rizzo explained, "And Davey and I, like I said, we're hand in glove on this situation as we are in all situations, we discuss everything and we're in total agreement."
The GM hadn't yet spoken to Strasburg though he said Davey Johnson had extensive conversations with the 24-year-old pitcher. Though the Nats' skipper said he thought it had become a distraction for the team, Rizzo did not. "I don't think it became distraction whatsoever," Rizzo said, "This team is battle-tested. They're a terrific major league ballclub with great makeup and guys that know how to prepare for the games and you could tell by the product on the field that this had no lingering effect whatsoever."
Rizzo has said all along that he'd be watching Strasburg closely as they came closer to the time to make the decision to shut the pitcher down, but he also noted that his manager and pitching coach had talked to him about some of the mental signs that they saw that showed them Strasburg was fatigued. "Davey mentioned that to me as did Steve McCatty," Rizzo said, "The focus part of it in his bullpen and the early part of the game. So when you put two and two together with the parameters that we had in place already and it was a fairly easy decision to say let's pull the plug today instead of [having] one more start and six more innings."
The GM and manager both said they didn't see anything that they would have done differently in hindsight. "It's not our first rodeo with this rehabilitation plan," Rizzo said, "And we followed it to the 'T' and I think that this shows that we were in the right vein and we had the right plan of attack to begin with and it was a prudent move to make at the time and even to this day we think it was the right way to do it."
In comparing Strasburg's rehab to Jordan Zimmermann's first full-year back in the 2011 campaign, Rizzo said there was some resemblance in the "lack of consistency," which he explained is, "... typical of Tommy John rehab patients. Often times it's not the velocity or the arm strength that's the first sign of fatigue, it's the delivery. Is he on line? Or is he falling off? Can he finish off his pitches? Is there hop on the fastball even though it's 95-97 mph? Is he finishing off his breaking pitches and his changeup which is a very important pitch for him that's a very stressful pitch on his arm, so you take all those things into consideration and it very much so resembled Jordan's season last year. Maybe a little less up and down than Jordan had, but we had the same parameters in place with Jordan last year, and so we thought it was a prudent time to end Stephen's season."
"It would have been nice for it to end on a positive note," Rizzo admitted, "but he's had a terrific season for us. You couldn't ask for more from his first season coming out of Tommy John surgery. He got us to where we're at right now. He's a huge, huge part of where we're at right now and he's one of the major contributors to the first place ballclub, the Washington Nationals."
"I believe in my heart that it's the right thing to do for the player," the Nats' GM concluded, "and the right thing to do for the player is the right thing to do for the franchise."
• LINK: Read Davey Johnson's comments on the decision to shut Stephen Strasburg down from earlier this morning.