Yahoo!Sports.com's Big League Stew's Kevin Kaduk investigated the history of 2012's rumored 160-inning limit for Stephen Strasburg last week after Mr. Kaduk read a Baseball Prospectus' article by Bradford Doolittle which quoted Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo saying the idea of a firm "160-inning" limit was a media creation:
"'Look, the media put (the 160-innings limit) out there, not me,' Rizzo said. 'It probably comes from what Jordan Zimmermann pitched last year.'"
BLS's Mr. Kaduk looked into it, he wrote, because he was, "... a little skeptical about Rizzo's claim about not floating the number." The 160-inning total was repeated so often in the press that it was stated as fact in "almost every," 2012 preview that looked at the Nationals' rotation. The conclusion the Yahoo!Sports.com writer reached was that Rizzo had been honest in saying he'd never set a definite limit, though, Mr. Kaduk wrote, "To be clear, Rizzo has always acknowledged — then and now — that there will come a time when Strasburg will be removed from the rotation."
Rizzo said in the Baseball Prospectus' article what he's been saying since the 2011 season ended. In a mid-October press conference, the Nats' GM told reporters that they hadn't decided "in concrete," how many innings the 23-year-old right-hander would pitch in his first full-season back from Tommy John, though he did say, "I have general parameters of what I think is something I would allow him to throw."
The Nationals' general manager explained further at the time that though they had "general parameters" of what they expected from the '09 no.1 overall pick, 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."
Yahoo!Sports.com's Mr. Kaduk still ended his article by writing that, "What this means for the Nats season and any playoff aspirations is tough to say, of course,":
"But at the very least we now know there's no reason to circle any possible end dates on Strasburg's calendar. It would seem that Rizzo sure hasn't."
As Rizzo stated before the 2011 season even ended, in an MLB Network Radio interview with hosts Kevin Kennedy and Jim Duquette this past September, "If we're lucky enough and improved enough to be playing meaningful games in 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 reiterated all of this at the start of the season.
In the first week of April the topic came up again when MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Duquette and Mike Ferrin visited Space Coast Stadium. Rizzo again told the hosts clearly when asked about Strasburg, "We're not going put a clear and concise number of innings. 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."
Strasburg wasn't interested in discussing the ideas that have been thrown around as possible ways to keep him available late this season should the Nationals make a run, dismissing the talk of starting the season late or skipping starts in a press conference before Opening Day. "That's something you guys talked about," Strasburg said when a asked about starting the season late or possibly skipping starts to stretch out his innings, "I don't think that was ever discussed with the coaching staff or within the organization. So, I don't really have much to say on it." Mike Rizzo's been willing to discuss it time and again, however, and he did again on Wednesday in yet another MLB Network Radio interview, this one with Casey Stern and Jim Bowden.
"There will be a limit," Rizzo said, "I can't put a concrete number on what the limit is. We're going to use our eyes and experience level to determine when he's had enough. When I've determined he's had enough, we're going to shut him down just like we did Jordan Zimmermann last year, and hopefully we'll have the depth in our rotation to absorb that. He's a terrific young pitcher, but after throwing 60 innings in 2011, we're certainly not going to let him go out there and throw 200 innings in 2012.
"I don't think that's in the best interest of Stephen Strasburg's long-term career, and what's not in Stephen's best interest isn't in the Nationals' best interest. So, we're going to be prudent with him and we're going to be smart about it, but there's no predetermined innings limit. We're going to use our eyes and our experience level to kind of dictate and to lead us along that way."
The former Nats' GM, Jim Bowden, asked in a follow-up question if Strasburg's workload would then have to be managed by Nats' skipper Davey Johnson, who could hold his pitch and innings-per-start down, or potentially skip starts to make sure that Strasburg is available late in September or October should the team make a playoff run? "We've got a plan in place," Rizzo said, "We've taken a lot of time and a lot painstaking days going over the calendar and going over the schedule and that type of thing. What we don't want to do is, we don't want to interrupt his rotation. He's very comfortable, and as you know Jim, he's a very monitored person, he likes everything in its place and we don't want to really jumble up his schedule and get him out of his rotation and out of his routine."
"Davey [Johnson] is going to monitor it," Rizzo continued, "We're going to monitor each and every start. We're going to monitor how we utilize him, but Davey's under no instructions of a pitch count, a pitch limit, an innings-limit per-game. Like [I] said, we're going to utilize [Strasburg] and when we feel that he's reached his limit and he's had enough, we're going to shut him down."
So, to clarify, "You're pretty much solid with the fact that regardless of what's happening in the standings, if he hits the number whether it be August 15th or September 17th and he's done, then he's not pitching in the post season. He's done. You won't change that at a later date?" Casey Stern asked.
"I think that's an accurate assessment," Rizzo said, "Yes."
Can any ambiguity possibly remain? Check back next week when someone asks Rizzo again.