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Why not have Stephen Strasburg debut on June 1?

Feb 2, 2012, 6:35 PM EDT

Strasburg throws a pitch against the Florida Marlins during the first inning of their MLB National League baseball game in Washington Reuters

The idea already made plenty of sense. Now it seems like the obvious choice with Edwin Jackson getting inserted into Washington’s rotation.

Adding Jackson to a rotation that already included Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan gives the Nationals seven viable starters, with Chien-Ming Wang and Ross Detwiler currently in reserve (Tom Gorzelanny could also be included in that mix, but the Nationals view him strictly as a reliever now). The big issue, though, is that the best of those starters is only expected to throw about 160 innings this season after missing most of 2011 following Tommy John surgery.

So, if Strasburg starts the first week of the season and doesn’t miss any time, he’s probably going to run out of innings in mid-August. Which isn’t so bad if the Nationals are content to win 70 games this year. However, after adding Jackson and Gonzalez, the Nationals can at least dream of the wild card. The offense will need bounce-back seasons from Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, but the cause is hardly hopeless.

Which means the Nationals should just scratch Strasburg from spring training. Instead of having him start to gear up in mid-February, have him do it in mid-April instead. Such a plan would keep him available for the entire month of September and then into October, on the off chance the Nationals make it. They’ll certainly be willing to stretch that innings limit a bit if they get to the postseason.

And, yeah, I know a win in April is just as valuable as a win in September… such a strategy wouldn’t necessarily improve the Nationals’ record. But then again, it might. The Nationals’ other six starters are a whole lot more likely to all be healthy on April 1 than on September 1. Given their light workloads of late, Zimmermann and Wang in particular are candidates to wear down as the season goes on. A start that doesn’t go to Strasburg in April will go to Wang or Detwiler instead. A start that doesn’t go to Strasburg in September might instead go to Yunesky Maya or Craig Stammen.

There is one big con to my plan: what to do about Strasburg’s roster status during the two months he’s off. Strasburg has options left, so the Nationals have the ability to send him down to the minors. If they tried doing so, though, agent Scott Boras would likely pitch a fit and file a grievance since Strasburg would lose a couple of months of service time. It’d be better just to put him on the disabled list, allowing Strasburg to continue to accrue his service time. MLB doesn’t have such a provision for putting a healthy player on the DL, but since it can be argued that Strasburg is still completing his rehab from Tommy John surgery, maybe this one could slide.

  1. vanmorrissey - Feb 2, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    Right. Try telling that to fans who have season ticket packages, that’ll go over well. You market him for the full year not two-thirds, so what happens when fans don’t come out? Won’t work, sorry.

    • rooney24 - Feb 2, 2012 at 8:53 PM

      He isn’t pitching a full season regardless. So, fans with season ticket packages would get to see him pitch the same number of games either way, so why does it matter if they are early or late?

    • natstowngreg - Feb 3, 2012 at 8:52 AM

      As a Nats fan with season tickets, I could live with it if the Nats explian it well, so fans know what’s coming. Otherwise, you will have a lot of disgruntled fans who don’t understand why Strasburg is missing from Opening Day.

      The downside risk is that his September starts could be meaningless, n part because of games the team didn’t win in April or May. I suspect that the Nats will take the wins up front, and deal with contending in September if and when it happens.

  2. jdd428 - Feb 2, 2012 at 7:29 PM

    I understand the desire to be cautions with Stras, but I see another flaw in the Nationals’ plan: What if they do manage to make the postseason – and Stras has reached his innings limit and is fine? Would they really go into the playoffs and not use a healthy Stras as a precaution – leave their best pitcher on the shelf?!

  3. astrosfan75956 - Feb 2, 2012 at 8:11 PM

    Great Idea!

  4. thefalcon123 - Feb 2, 2012 at 8:23 PM

    “Throwing is not dangerous to a pitcher’s arm. Throwing while tired is dangerous to a pitcher’s arm”. –Baseball Between the Numbers

    There is no benefit to having Strausberg throw 100 pitches a game for 20 games. If There’s a whole chapter in Baseball Between the Numbers on this subject. Their conclusion was that injury risk (or declined performance) increase by having pitcher’s throw being tired in a game.

    If the Nationals are worried this much about Strausberg, have him go 30 starts at 80 pitches a night.

  5. goforthanddie - Feb 2, 2012 at 8:44 PM

    160 innings. 5 innings per start. 32 starts for the season, or almost exactly 1/5 of the schedule.
    Teams carry long relievers for a reason, they need to earn those checks. Put this guy out there every fifth game from day 1 (if healthy), pitch him 5 innings, and pull him out.

  6. metalhead65 - Feb 2, 2012 at 9:11 PM

    this would not be a problem if Dusty Baker was the manager. every start he would go 1 inning more than the last tired or not. he is not getting paid all that money not to pitch seems to be his motto.

  7. sumerduckman - Feb 2, 2012 at 9:44 PM

    Maybe Mr. Johnson’s clever plan is to use a six man rotation. Then sit/rest Strasburg in Sept when the rosters expand, and then bring back for the playoffs.

  8. cerowb - Feb 2, 2012 at 10:20 PM

    I’m all for being cautious with young arms, but at some point you have to take the training wheels off. If he’s healthy, let the kid pitch.

    • samu0034 - Feb 3, 2012 at 5:54 AM

      That’s all well and good, cerowb, but don’t you think it might be a bit appropriate to wait a little longer than this after Tommy John surgery before throwing Strasburg to the wolves?

  9. royhobbs39 - Feb 3, 2012 at 6:25 AM

    If you have seven starters, why not move one to long relief with the idea that a lot of that long relief will be the sixth inning on when Strasburg pitches?

  10. shawndc04 - Feb 3, 2012 at 7:11 AM

    Bad idea Pouliot He needs to build and maintain arm strength and get game experience. Can’t do it under your idea.

  11. thefalcon123 - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    Wasn’t there a whole chapter in Baseball Between the Numbers on this subject? Basically, a pitcher gets hurt when he pitches tired. It would be more effective to have Strausberg making 30 starts at 80 pitches a night than 20 starts at 100 pitches.

  12. redbirdsin7 - Feb 3, 2012 at 4:12 PM

    the question really isn’t “when do you want SS to pitch?” it’s “where in your season do you want SS to pitch?” if you want to sell seats and get fans in the door, use him up early. if you think you have a legitimate shot to contend (as i do), you’re gonna want him later. the nats have put themselves in a unique depth situation. why not use some combination of a six man rotation and spacing out SS starts. so what if he misses his first 3 or 4 starts of the season? don’t forget, Jordan Zimmermann is also coming off tommy john (1 year prior, and he was on the 160 ip count list last year) and gio gonzalez topped 200 ip for the first time last year. maybe starting the year with 6 guys throwing helps them all last a little longer in the season…

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