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Still having trouble believing that Stephen Strasburg will be shut down before the season’s over

Jun 13, 2012, 9:13 AM EDT

Stephen Strasburg Getty Getty Images

Nats GM Mike Rizzo said earlier this year that they were going to shut down Stephen Strasburg at 160 innings.  The Nats, of course, are in first place and look absolutely legit.  So it made sense for Joel Sherman of the New York Post to ask Rizzo if he’s still feeling cool with shutting Strasburg down. Yep:

When we talked by phone yesterday and the topic was broached, Rizzo said, “Joel, you are killing me.” Then he promised, “This is the last time I am discussing this with any member of the media. It is well-chronicled. It is not changing … To ask [Strasburg] to throw 200 innings now [off those previous totals], that is not a prudent way to do business with a 23-year-old, top-of-the-rotation starter we plan to have for a long time. It’s is going to be painful, and we are going to take grief. But I will not shy away from it. I am the caretaker of this organization for the long haul.”

I totally understand the logic there. But I will totally understand the outrage if, in the middle of a playoff push that could lead to a World Series run, the Nats put their best pitcher on the shelf.

Can you imagine what would happen if the Nats lost out on a playoff spot by a couple of games after seeing Chien-Ming Wang get six or seven starts he wouldn’t have otherwise had?

The long-term health of Stephen Strasburg is essential to the future of the Nationals franchise. But so too is not pissing off your fans.  I don’t envy Mike Rizzo in having to make that decision, but I think I’d keep a more open mind about things than he seems to have now.

  1. proudlycanadian - Jun 13, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    For the long term benefit of the player and the franchise, he has to be shut down. Nobody wants him to have another operation.

    • myopinionisgarbage - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:45 AM

      I’m SO confused by all of this. I really am. There is NO medical science to back up this 160 inning limit necessity. His arm is recovered, fully, from his surgery. We know this, because he’s been pitching. This is not the type of injury that will recur from 40 extra innings over the course of ONE season. If it DOES, it was most likely going to happen ANYWAY within those 40 innings of the NEXT season. This is not an injury where your arm gets tired at the end of the season and then your ulnar collateral ligament explodes. It just doesn’t work that way. DOES NO ONE ELSE HAVE GOOGLE?!?!?!?!

      http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/will_carroll/03/09/tommy-john-surgery/index.html

      They’re being careful, but the only real way to handle the kid at this point is to ask him “how does your arm feel?” If he says “great” then he gets the ball. That should be the end of it.

      • jimbo1949 - Jun 13, 2012 at 11:09 AM

        your nym is self explanatory.

      • myopinionisgarbage - Jun 13, 2012 at 11:15 AM

        Thank you for your insight. Your wise words have moved me.

      • steeler999 - Jun 13, 2012 at 12:11 PM

        That makes perfect sense to me. But that’s easy for us to say, we’re not the one’s who are paying him. They’ve got a ton of money tied up in this kid and they want him to pitch for them for many years to come. Right or wrong, if they weren’t careful with Strasburg and something else went wrong with his arm, the team would get crushed by fans & media.

  2. danaking - Jun 13, 2012 at 9:23 AM

    The Nats are missing an obvious solution. (OR at least a partial solution.) Make Strasburg the fifth starter. Keep the other pitchers on their four days of rest rotation. Any time there is a day off, it’s Strasburg who gets skipped. This should allow him to spread his innings out over a longer period of time. Lesser pitchers will still get more starts, but they won’t be clustered together in the most pressure-filled part of the season.

    They can also limit him to six innings. Seems dumb to count pitches per start, then innings per season as the determining factors in how much he pitches. If they get a big lead, pull him after five. If he clearly doesn’t have it one day, pull him sooner. The key should be to allocate his innings in such a manner he will be available for the last series of the season, if it means anything.

    What about the playoffs? get there first, then worry about it.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jun 13, 2012 at 9:40 AM

      It’s a good idea, but scheduling into august/sept usually has little to no off days at all. Think the Phils last year, and the Yanks as well, played something like 30 games in 31 days in the last few weeks of the season.

      Looking at their schedule, the Nats get 3 off days in August and 2 off days in September total.

      • danaking - Jun 13, 2012 at 9:58 PM

        Skip hus turn against San Diego or Chicago or Houston, someone they should be able to beat, anyway.

    • dan1111 - Jun 13, 2012 at 11:04 AM

      Any way you cut his innings without regard to the game situation is the same. Skipping five random starts during the season has the same effect on the team as shutting him down for the last five starts, though it may seem better to the fans.

      I agree with taking him out of blowouts, but why wait five innings? Take him out in the first if they score a bunch of runs.

  3. voteforno6 - Jun 13, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    This fan is perfectly fine with them shutting him down, as are most of the people I talk to at the stadium.

    • madhatternalice - Jun 13, 2012 at 11:59 PM

      STH here. With you 100%.

  4. foreverlsu - Jun 13, 2012 at 9:29 AM

    He does NOT have to be shut down. They need to quit babying this grown man. Obviously, the 160 inning max had zero impact on his previous injury. If the Nats are in a pennant race in September and October, he needs to pitch; otherwise, his season should not have started until June. Injuries happen and Strasburg is paid very well to pitch; if he’s perfectly healthy, he needs to pitch.

    • natstowngreg - Jun 13, 2012 at 1:55 PM

      The above comment reflects a lack of understanding of how a pitcher rehabs from Tommy John Surgery. You don’t have TJS, then rehab for 12-18 months, then come back and pitch a complete season as though the surgery never happened. Jordan Zimmermann was shut down early flast season for the same reason; in his second season back from TJS, Zimmemann has no innings limit.

      The Nats are not babying Strasburg, they’re being sensible. It’s media who will panic. Along with fans who don’t understand the need to be prudent with the team’s ace.

    • madhatternalice - Jun 13, 2012 at 11:59 PM

      Craig! Why didn’t you tell us that Rob Dibble comments here??

  5. 12strikes - Jun 13, 2012 at 9:31 AM

    Shutting down your “top of the rotation” starter…while in first place…with a chance to go deep in the playoffs is the MOST idiotic thing I ever heard.
    The NL east is ripe for the picking. The Phillies are in a down year, the Mets are rebuilding, the Braves are .. Well…doing something I guess, and the Marlins have a volcano as a manager.
    So Mike Rizzo would rather wait till next season when the Phillies are the Phillies again, the Mets have a couple more pieces, the Braves …Well… are doing something, and the Marlins still have a volcano as a manager.

    The “Wait till next year” mentality is great when you are in 2nd or 3rd, 6 to 10 games out. NOT when you are in first.

    • 12strikes - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:16 AM

      How can any one that is a sports fan thumbs down this?

      • dangle13x - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:34 AM

        it’s because they think you come off as a total knob. By the way I added a thumbs down in there because I agree with them.

      • 12strikes - Jun 13, 2012 at 11:07 AM

        @dangle13x
        WOW Insightful commentary. Now I fully understand the Nationals thinking. You brought so much detail to the conversion. I bet the teachers at the Camphill Special School are so proud of you …. Here’s a hug for you.

    • foreverchipper10 - Jun 13, 2012 at 12:15 PM

      As a Braves fan I feel your description of their season is spot on.

  6. greymares - Jun 13, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    This is an absolute joke he is either a big league pitcher or he’s not. there was a time when pitchers pitched near 300 innings now they can’t approach 200 put him in the pen or train him to be a PITCHER. It has nothing to do with pitching it’s about the money they paid, which if he can’t pitch the season healthy was TOO MUCH.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jun 13, 2012 at 9:42 AM

      And how many of those pitchers had long and productive careers? The ones you’ll probably name are a small selection bias of all the pitchers who threw that often.

      • myopinionisgarbage - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:04 AM

        Right, because how many of the guys today who throw 160 innings per year have long and productive careers?

        If you look at “long and productive” careers, and their associated statistics, you’ll find that the people with “long and productive” careers were nearly always in the top of the league in innings pitched. You’ll also find that the people who did NOT have “long and productive” careers routinely were in the bottom of the innings pitched category. I don’t understand your argument. If you’re good, you’re going to pitch more. If you suck, you’ll pitch less. There is always going to be a correlation of higher innings pitched with “long and productive” career guys.

      • dangle13x - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:36 AM

        well your name says it all., your opinion truly is garbage. The pitchers that threw 300 innings werent throwing 100 mph fastballs you knuckledragger.

      • myopinionisgarbage - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:55 AM

        Neither is Strassburg buddy.

      • 12strikes - Jun 13, 2012 at 11:15 AM

        @dangle13x
        Actually Nolan Ryan pitched two 300+ inning seasons (and 1 @299), he also had 12 season where he pitched over 220. Oh… he also was known to hit 100 mph… But that was a good try…here’s another hug for you.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jun 13, 2012 at 1:37 PM

        you’ll find that the people with “long and productive” careers were nearly always in the top of the league in innings pitched.

        You missed my point. You are railing about how pitchers need to throw more, and use selection bias of good pitchers from yesteryear to say “those guys did it, and they never had arm injuries, so why don’t players do it now?”

        It’s selection bias because those guys survived pitching that long. Just because Pitcher A threw 300IP a year and lasted 20 years doesn’t make him the expectation, it makes him the exception. For instance, guys like Steve Carlton and Bert Blyleven routinely threw 250+IP a year. But what about someone like Denny Mclain, who threw back to back 300+ IP seasons during which he won two CYs, but then faced arm trouble and was never the same again? Or Fernando Valenzuela who threw about 1500 IP before age 25, then got hurt and was never the same again?

        Now, I’m not saying that what the Nats are doing with Strasburg (or the Yanks with Hughes, or the Sox with Buccholz) is the right thing. But we can’t say that merely because A, B and C did long ago, players X, Y and Z should do it now.

  7. myopinionisgarbage - Jun 13, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    He’s CLEARLY fully recovered from surgery. Either he’s built to withstand an entire major league season or he isn’t. If I were a GM, I would want to find that out sooner than later. The whole # of innings thing is such B.S. So he only throws 160 this year and then then what? 180 next year? 200 the next? Or will they go straight to “he can throw as many as he has to?” How is THAT any safer than just letting the kid throw the ball when his arm feels good? GM’s think too much sometimes. The 5th man argument above is an excellent idea if you HAVE to limit the kid. Really, it makes a lot of sense. I just don’t see the medical benefit of limiting his total number of innings pitched over the course of ONE season. Statistically, it seems insignificant for the type of injury he had.

    • voteforno6 - Jun 13, 2012 at 9:42 AM

      Actually, they’re relying on the best medical knowledge that they have, on how to bring along young pitchers who have never had this sort of work load, let alone recovering from a major surgery. This is the same thing that they did with Jordan Zimmermann last year, so there’s no reason to expect anything different with Strasburg. Thomas Boswell from the Washington Post estimated that, at his current rate of innings pitched per game, he’ll be shut down sometime around the second or third week of September, which is still most of the season. The idea is to have him leading a playoff charge for several years, not just this one.

      As for moving him down in the rotation, or skipping a start every now and then, they did that with Zimmermann a few times last year, and it didn’t really help out – it just threw him off his routine. Strasburg is very much a creature of routine as well, so I don’t think it would really help him out, either.

      • myopinionisgarbage - Jun 13, 2012 at 9:50 AM

        Actually, they’re not. They made it up.

        Read here: http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/mlb-big-league-stew/nats-gm-mike-rizzo-says-stephen-strasburg-160-200345159.html

        So, again, the type of injury he had and the arbitrary # of innings they placed on him, seems to me, to be statistically insignificant over the course of a) his career and more importantly b) his contract. Let him pitch, and find out if your investment is going to pan out, or if he’s going to be the Greg Oden of MLB.

      • 12strikes - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:24 AM

        @voteforno6
        So you are going to take the uncertainty of next season over the certainty of this year?

        Right now you KNOW you are in first place, you KNOW your team is hot.

        Next year Strasburg could pitch 220 innings but the team could be around 500 with little to no shot for the playoffs.

        All the Washington fans are going to feel better watching Strasburg (possibly) pitch 200 innings for a 500 team next season over being shut down at 160 with the team in a pennant race this year?

        If that is the way the fans and the team think then Jim Riggleman was right in walking away.

  8. tedked - Jun 13, 2012 at 9:41 AM

    Right, the GM of a major league sports team is telling everything to everyone truthfully. He has not thought about fewer starts, holding starts in the bank and the what-ifs of ANY decisions. So fare this year(as early as it is) Rizzo is Exec of the year in MLB. Come on. Strasburgs gonna throw an inning in the ALL-STAR game this year too. Nats fans are seeing curly W wins for the first time in over 50 years. We are gonna enjoy this team and put our confidence in a GM and manager who are doing everything right. Let the innings fall where they may..

    • myopinionisgarbage - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:19 AM

      Matt Millen was a GM of a professional sports team. Just saying.

      • nightman13 - Jun 13, 2012 at 2:09 PM

        Millen wasn’t the worst GM in NFL history, he was just allowed to keep his job longer than others.

    • dangle13x - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:42 AM

      Not just that but I would definitely give Davey Johnson manager of the year through this point.

  9. El Bravo - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    Who knows? Maybe Wang will hold his own?

    • The Dangerous Mabry - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:22 AM

      Yeah, hopefully he can come through. You wouldn’t want to see the Nats miss the playoffs, and Wang left holding the bag.

  10. chill1184 - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    I wouldn’t want to be in Rizzo’s shoes with this question if the Nationals are fighting for the NL pennant.

  11. icanspeel - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    I remember in 2010 the Padres had a similar thing going with Matt Latos and it backfired since 1) they missed the playoffs by a game and they did rest him some 2) Latos was ineffective the last month of the season since he went over his innings limit anyways even though they skipped some starts

    It could be a lose-lose situation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Strausburg finds more Icy/Hot in his jock and Rizzo was the one who put it there.

  12. hisgirlgotburrelled - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:31 AM

    I have a tough time agreeing with throwing 200+ innings for him. If there’s any race for the NL East at all in September and they pitch Strasburg you know he’s going to be out there firing. With pitch counts you need to be looking at how many pitches were tough pitches, how many were 3-0 fastballs, 0-2 “waste” pitches.” He’s going to be ramping it up more in September and October if they make the playoffs, so 200 innings in the stat book is going to be more like 240.

  13. larryboodry - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    I would shut him down, for the sake of his career, two or three extra starts this year are not worth risking his durability in the future…I look at Kerry Wood, whose HS coach once started him in both games of a doubleheader, and who was subsequently overused early in his Cubs career.

    And there is no guarantee that Strasburg will remain effective as the innings pile up, either…He can get rocked in September as easily as the next guy.

  14. ezwriter69 - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    Preposterous.
    All the training, diagnostic and surgical advances of the last fifty years, and suddenly no one can pitch more than 200 innings any more, can’t pitch literally HALF of what the average pitcher did then. Inexplicable…
    Time to cut the season by fifty games, because pitchers can’t pitch a full season… bet the suits will just love that idea, but hey, you HAVE to protect the poor vulnerable overworked pitchers, right?

    • chill1184 - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:45 AM

      The only time I see MLB ever cutting back the regular season is if they move to four divisions per league and two wild cards like in the NFL.

  15. tcostant - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    I’m a Nationals fan and live in the area. I won’t be pissed off, this year is all gravy.

    • CJ - Jun 13, 2012 at 1:00 PM

      gravy on top of what? an empty plate? you can’t call this season gravy if you haven’t accomplished a thing yet.

      • tcostant - Jun 19, 2012 at 3:56 PM

        Wrong. Gravy on a pleasent unexected season. Lets get him ready for 200 innings in 2013 when Harper is a year older and the team is really ready to compete for a World Series.

      • CJ - Jun 19, 2012 at 4:11 PM

        who’s to say they aren’t ready now?

  16. dorbs345 - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:49 AM

    I still don’t understand why they don’t start skipping a start here and there so that they can extend him out?!?

  17. rooney24 - Jun 13, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    If he reaches the 160 innings prior to roster expansion in September, how do they shut him down? You have said all along you would shut him down, so making up some mystery injury won’t really fly. It isn’t really fair to him (or his ML service time) to send him down. He would be taking up a roster spot until the rosters expanded, and not being able to help out. I wouldn’t think they could do that very long, could they?

  18. davem23 - Jun 13, 2012 at 11:22 AM

    As a hometown and lifelong resident and a Nat fan all the way back to 2005, I do not know of a single Nat fan that would be pissed about anything that can occur the remainder of the season, WE, (yes, I used we) have been long suffering in this town, and the way this team is playing and progressing is nothing but astonishing. Who would have thought the Nats would be on pace for a 100 win season at this point? No Werth, Storen, or Ramos? Lannan in the minors, our opening day starter from last year, and more on the way.

    Face it Craig we are not Philly!

    *See “Booing Chase Utley”

    • foreverlsu - Jun 13, 2012 at 11:36 AM

      This is a loser mentality. You play to win. If he’s healthy, he needs to pitch!

      • CJ - Jun 13, 2012 at 1:04 PM

        it’s OK though. If they shelf Strasburg after 160 innings and miss the wild card by 2 games to whoever, and that team goes on to win the World Series, Nats fans won’t care even a little. This year was all gravy.

        They’d rather take their chances next year than strike while the iron is hot and everything is going their way. That’s the DC way. At least, that’s all I’ve been getting from this thread: they’d rather maybe make a run next year than have Strasburg throw another 60 innings this year and almost certainly make a run this year.

        As a Phillies fan, I have no problem with that opinion. I hope they do the same thing.

  19. mississippimusicman - Jun 13, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    I can’t find the article now, but I’ve read somewhere that when young pitchers pitch more than 30 innings over their previous season high, it’s much more likely they’ll get hurt by the end of the end of the following season. Someone had analyzed pitcher use statistics and injury reports over the course of a few decades, and it was pretty clear that it’s a bad idea.

    Since Strasburg only pitched 44 1/3 innings (across all levels) last year, and topped out at 123 1/3 in 2010, 160 innings is actually a little aggressive. I thought it was crazy to let him pitch that many innings in 2010, actually, and it may have contributed to his injury. Pitchers in their second full season don’t go 200 innings. The reason we don’t think about it is they’re usually in the minors long enough to build up to it.

  20. kevinbnyc - Jun 13, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    I tend to agree with the “oh let the kid throw” logic. But somebody should ask the Cubs how that worked out for them. Probably for the best to keep his arm healthy for the long run.

  21. kinggw - Jun 13, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    I’m a Nats fan and I have no problem with them shutting down Stras when he reaches his limit. I hate to break it some of the non-believers in the room but this isnt a fluke occurence for the Nats. The core of the team is young and not going anywhere. In fact they are only going to get better. Based on what happened with Jordan Zimmermann, Rizzo and the Nats have a blueprint on how to handle pitchers coming off of Tommy John surgery. Lets give them the benefit of the doubt.

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