After last night's abbreviated outing in which 24-year-old Washington Nationals' right-hander Stephen Strasburg lasted just 3.0 innings against the Miami Marlins and gave up six hits, five runs (all earned) and three walks while throwing 67 pitches, 37 of them strikes, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson told reporters that he didn't think his pitcher was 100% focused on the start and was distracted by all the attention surrounding his impending shutdown."To be honest," Johnson said, "I think he just was thinking too much about the decision that we're going to shut him down and he kind of wore it. Didn't like it. But that's the way it is."
When the Nationals' 69-year-old skipper talked to reporters this morning, he informed the media that he had just spoken to Strasburg and told him that his season was over, effective immediately. "Well, I just told Stephen that his year is over," Johnson began, "He's had a great year. I know what he's going through for actually the last couple weeks now. The media hype on this has been unbelievable. I feel it's hard for him as it would be for anybody to get mentally totally committed in a ballgame. And he's reached his innings limit that was set two years ago, so we can get past this and talk about other things for a change."
Asked how the Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick had taken the news, Johnson said, "He's emotional about it. He's a competitor. He's one heck of a pitcher and a heck of a competitor. I know he's been struggling with it for weeks. And I know he doesn't sleep good thinking about it. Shoot, I've heard so much advice from every ex-pitcher, every guru on the matter, that it will be his decision but it's not."
The Nationals' manager stated clearly that it was he made decision to end Strasburg's season now. "I made this call," Johnson stated clearly, "My job is to do what I think is best for the player and this is what's best."
"If you're not there 100% mentally," Johnson continued, "I mean, he's a gifted athlete, his velocity could still be there, but I don't see the crispness, I don't see the ball jumping out of his hand. But it's more... I'm a firm believer that this game is 99.5% mental and he's only human and I don't know how anybody can be totally mentally concentrating on the job at hand with the media hype on this thing and I think that we would be risking more sending him back out."
Johnson made a point throughout the press conference of saying that the media hype was overwhelming. "It's a great subject to second guess on," the manager said, "I mean, I'm mentally worn out seeing it all the time myself."
"It has its toll not only on Stephen, but on the rest of the guys on the club," Johnson told reporters, "It's a distraction."
It wasn't just last night's outing that convinced the manager to make the decision. "I've detected it the last three or four starts," Johnson explained, "He's such a competitor. He so wants to be involved and this is his dream, being there for everybody, so that's the hard part on him, but he'll be here, he just won't be pitching."
With the announcement, Strasburg's first season post-Tommy John surgery ends with the right-hander (15-6) with a 3.16 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 48 walks (2.71 BB/9) and 197 Ks (11.13 K/9) in 28 starts and 159.1 IP. John Lannan will take Strasburg's place in the rotation against the Mets in New York this coming Wednesday. Asked to sum up Strasburg's season, Johnson told reporters, "He had a great year. Outstanding year. Even with this looming over him. [Jordan] Zimmermann had a great year last year, same situation last year, except we're in the thick of it. But again, the situation that the team [is in] doesn't really affect my judgement on what's best for the player, no matter who the player is."
Johnson said he spoke to the pitcher in the training room this morning. "I wasn't going to drag it out," Johnson said, "I'm just taking the ball out of his hands."
The Nationals' manager said that looking back they wouldn't have handled the situation any differently. "No. I wouldn't have done anything differently and even with all the so-called experts commenting on how to use him, how to get him through October, how to do this, how to do that, I have a little experience in handling a pitching staff and none of those scenarios fit. If they did I would have pursued them. In the handling of any pitcher, they like regular work. They don't need to be a reliever and then come in and start starting. It's way past that. And there [are] dangers in changing a pitcher's program. So, if you put enough thought in on how you're going to handle a pitcher or player and getting them prepared for the season, there's never any second-guessing."
"The media hype is because it's Stephen Strasburg, no.1 pick with the great fanfare he head breaking in," Johnson said, explaining that the scenario played with Jordan Zimmermann in his first year back from Tommy John last year with much less attention. "I'd have to blame the media for some mental preparation problems more than anything," Johnson continued, "It's a whole new scenario, but it's the same scenario with Strasburg as it was with Zimmermann."
"With the media attention, I see it's harder for him to concentrate on the job at hand," Johnson said, "And I'm sure he's physically a little tired, but this kind of distraction really exacerbated the situation to the point where I don't see it's in his best interest to get one more start."
The conversation the Nats' manager had with Stephen Strasburg a week ago in which the pitcher said he was having trouble sleeping, Johnson said he totally understood. "I can imagine with all the attention that this has had," Johnson explained, "You can't hardly turn on the tv without somebody commenting on why it's wrong what we're doing and how that would wear on anybody. But I sensed it really, almost from the first pitch of the ballgame yesterday that that was going to be it for him."
Johnson said that he spoke to both D.C. GM Mike Rizzo and pitching coach Steve McCatty and, "They were in agreement."
"I talked to Mike," last night Johnson said, then decided to wait to make the decision this morning, "But when I revisited it I felt the same way, so... turn the page."