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Stephen Strasburg on Nationals’ innings limit: “They’re going to have to rip the ball out of my hands”

Jul 12, 2012, 3:45 PM EDT

Stephen Strasburg Getty Getty Images

General manager Mike Rizzo said before the season that the Nationals would limit Stephen Strasburg to 160 innings as he comes back from Tommy John elbow surgery, but no one, including Strasburg, seems to think that will actually happen.

Strasburg has already thrown 99 innings, putting him on pace for around 193, and when asked about the potential 160-inning limit by MLB Network Radio he replied: “They’re going to have to rip the ball out of my hands.”

Strasburg went on to say: “I have no clue how many innings I’m going to throw this year. I’ve answered that question multiple times, and nobody’s said anything to me. I feel great right now.”

He’s averaged 5.82 innings per start, so to go from a 193-inning pace to a 160-inning pace he’d have to skip 5-6 of his remaining 15-16 starts. Shorter starts are also an option, although Strasburg has been allowed to top 100 pitches in a game just six times as is and the Nationals will presumably want to keep him fully stretched out for potential postseason games.

And those playoff starts would make it even tougher to keep Strasburg at or around 160 innings for the season, assuming the Nationals include those in the count. If they don’t skip any of his regular season starts and he ends up pitching in the playoffs, Strasburg could easily approach 210-220 innings.

  1. mattyflex - Jul 12, 2012 at 3:53 PM

    Love this kid’s heart.

  2. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Jul 12, 2012 at 3:53 PM

    Does he actually risk re-injuring himself if he pitches more than 160 innings?

    • hgulkkcaj - Jul 12, 2012 at 3:56 PM

      If that’s a rhetorical question, I agree. Let the kid pitch for cryin’ out loud!

      • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Jul 12, 2012 at 4:09 PM

        It wasn’t. I want to know why pitch counts are such a big deal. I could very well be ignorant and it could be a big factor in injury, I’m just curious.

    • Kevin S. - Jul 12, 2012 at 3:57 PM

      I don’t think it’s a greater risk of Tommy John so much as just the general arm stress of throwing too much before the arm is properly built up. There’s a degree of arbitrariness to 160 innings, but the intuition behind it is fairly logical.

      • natstowngreg - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:13 PM

        Exactly. Yes, Strasburg is healthy now. But his workload would go from 24 IP last season to over 200 IP this season. This is a recipe for burnout in September, or injury to something other than his right elbow.

        The Nats’ brass, who know many times more about pitchers’ health than yours truly, understand this.

    • ajcardsfan - Jul 12, 2012 at 3:57 PM

      They make it sound like he’s a machine, and after 160 innings he’s due for an oil change and by going over he risks damaging his moving parts.

    • kkolchak - Jul 12, 2012 at 3:58 PM

      Yes. While it is true that he could get reinjured anyway, adding another 40-60 innings of stress onto an arm that is not used to it and is still healing would be a big risk. The other problem is that Strasburg only threw around 100 innings total between the majors and minors during his rookie season. Expecting him to throw 220 innings this year would be a stretch without the TJ surgery given that it would be more than double the amount he has ever thrown.

    • jobotjones - Jul 12, 2012 at 3:59 PM

      Precautionary, I’m sure. I like his attitude also, but if the boss tells you to sit down…you take a seat.

    • CJ - Jul 12, 2012 at 4:02 PM

      nope. There’s exactly zero scientific research that backs this theory, it’s just an arbitrary number picked by Nats management before the season. If they take the ball out of his hand in the heat of a division race and/or pennant, everyone in favor of that decision at the time should be fired immediately.

      Shockingly though, most Nats fans around here have been in agreement with it. Wonder if this, or the fact that they’re still in first at the break, changes their mind.

      • kkolchak - Jul 12, 2012 at 4:43 PM

        Nope – because we smartly choose to trust the professional coaches and trainers who get paid to be right about these things and have “skin in the game” and not some internet blowhard.

      • CJ - Jul 13, 2012 at 8:13 AM

        how cute.

    • kinggw - Jul 12, 2012 at 5:48 PM

      Not necessarily, but 160 innings is a benchmark limit that has been adopted by the Nats. People forget the same exact thing happened last year with Zimmermann. They held him to 160 innings last season. This season he’s been healthy and been extremely effective.

      I like to think the Nats can get by with Lannan and/or Wang picking up the slack the last month of the season. Strasburg is 0-3 his last three starts and the Nats are still winning when he doesnt pitch. Its a huge advantage with Strasburg, this team has proven they can get by without him. I’d rather them shut him down this year than possibly risk his long term health. The Nats are going to be contenders in the NL East for years to come, there is no need for management to act in haste with regards to Strasburg’s health to make a haphazard playoff run. Kudos to Rizzo for sticking to his guns.

  3. 18thstreet - Jul 12, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    Dammit. They’ll never find another ball.

  4. Kevin S. - Jul 12, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    Actually, they just have to not write him on the lineup card. Unless of course he’s going to just stand out there and beat the shit out of Chien-Ming Wang if they try to have him start instead, which would be kind of hilarious.

    • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Jul 12, 2012 at 4:11 PM

      Avoid bath salts, Wang.

  5. TheNaturalMevs - Jul 12, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    They’re going to have to keep running him out there. I bet he never really gets shut down for good. The argument of him being there for use at a later season argument has never held water with me. Who is to say he’s as healthy, effective, useful in future seasons? Who is to say the Nationals are ever in this type of contention again?

    It’s like buying an expensive pick up truck and letting it sit in the garage because you don’t want to put miles on it. Put miles on it. Beat it up. That’s what a truck is for. If you didn’t want a truck you should have gone with that nice KIA 4-cylinder your wife wanted you to get. You know, the one that holds the kids car seat.

    • kkolchak - Jul 12, 2012 at 4:45 PM

      Given that athletes are not machines and that once they break down their careers are over, that is the dumbest analogy I have ever read.

      • TheNaturalMevs - Jul 12, 2012 at 5:29 PM

        Yea, no.

        Athletes are machines. Pitchers pitch in pain for a number of years. Read the Bobby Ojeda feature story in the NY Times from Memorial Day weekend. Thanks for playing.

      • kkolchak - Jul 12, 2012 at 6:47 PM

        Wow–I didn’t think you could leave a dumber comment than the first one, but son-of-a-gun, you managed it. Thank YOU for playing. I bow to your superior ignorance.

      • rooney24 - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:15 PM

        Pitchers aren’t machines, but Mevs may be a tool.

    • zzalapski - Jul 12, 2012 at 5:29 PM

  6. danaking - Jul 12, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    What I can’t figure out is why they keep running him out there every day if they are serious about this 160 innings business. Why shut him down in August, before the key games are played, when they could have made him the de facto fifth starter and skipped his start every time a day off came on to the schedule. That would have limited his innings and spread out the usage.

    I’d love to for a sportswriter to ask Rizzo if the inning in the All-Star game counts.

    • natslady - Jul 12, 2012 at 4:44 PM

      OK, tell the Rangers (or the Phillies, for that matter), that there is only one “magic” year. Horse manure! Strasburg himself is talking dynasty.

      Actually, the All-Star does probably count, but it doesn’t matter because the 160 is NOT exact, more like a range (162-170)–162+ so he qualifies.

      Stras only pitched 44 ML innings last year. That’s already a big jump. And, if he pitches all the way through the playoffs/WS you are talking in the neighborhood of 220 innings. And, he is ONLY 23 years old.

      Nats fans are already convinced, and really, that’s all that counts. Boz (Tom Boswell of the Washington Post) ran a survey and it was a landslide (84%) in favor of the shutdown. Remember, the Nats are a year ahead of schedule. And, it doesn’t matter how well Stras pitches if the hitting isn’t there.

      Everyone outside of DC is just posting about the “Stras shutdown” issue so they have something to write about the Nats on their blogs. There are no other real Nats controversies–other than Harper’s gold shoes–and that’s great!

    • kkolchak - Jul 12, 2012 at 4:48 PM

      “Why shut him down in August, before the key games are played, when they could have made him the de facto fifth starter and skipped his start every time a day off came on to the schedule.”

      1). Because they did not want to disrupt his routine, especially sine he would have to throw on those missed start days, which still puts stress on the arm.

      2). Last time I checked, wins in April to August count the EXACT SAME in the standings as wins in September.

      • danaking - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:33 PM

        But not as much as wins in the playoffs. Just because they’re a year ahead of schedule doesn;t mean they can assume they’ll be a playoff team every year. Ask Dan Marino.

  7. TheNaturalMevs - Jul 12, 2012 at 4:45 PM

    The Yankees had Joba on an innings count for those first few years. You see how that worked out. #SorryYanksFans #HadTo

    • Kevin S. - Jul 12, 2012 at 6:21 PM

      The Yankees jerked Joba around because they had all sorts of conflicting issues going on. Most teams that bring up young phenoms have no problem shutting them down in September. You just don’t hear about it because those teams are rarely in the hunt.

      Nats have a solid rotation even outside of Strasburg. If they get to the playoffs, I wonder if they’d consider using him as a high-leverage, multi-inning reliever. Game tied after six, you think you’ve got the starter out? Bam! Strasburg. Obviously you could only use him like that maybe once or twice a series, but there are ways to keep him involved without him throwing 6-7 innings every five days.

    • badintent - Jul 13, 2012 at 3:04 AM

      @theartificalMeds……………………………. Go take yours, Xantec,Viagra, Prozac and 50 cc of HGH, .Joba will win final game in this year’s WS for Blue Empire.

  8. voteforno6 - Jul 12, 2012 at 5:13 PM

    Strasburg will be shut down, of that I’m certain. This will happen because he’s never pitched more than 120 innings in a season. He’s still young, so the Nationals are going to be cautious in letting him build up arm strength. The team’s medical staff isn’t just making this up as they go along – the best available studies indicate that the risk of injury to a young pitcher goes up once that pitcher exceeds a certain innings limit (I think it’s somewhere around 20 – 30 % increase frome year to year).

    If the organization suddenly changed their minds now, they would lose quite a bit of credibility. They would essentially be telling everyone that they don’t care about their players, that it’s more important to go all in for this one season than to protect their long term investment. From what I’ve seen of Mike Rizzo, I have no doubt that he will not change his mind on this one. He has rather strong convictions, and he is not the type of person that’s going to be pushed around on this issue by the braying mobs in sports media.

    • natslady - Jul 12, 2012 at 6:20 PM

      Very true. You are trying to sign a draft pick (Giolito), a high school pitcher who is on the fence and has been injured. You don’t want to send the message to him, his family and his “advisor” that if he signs with the Nats they will blow out his arm the first or second year he gets to the majors.

  9. sanzarq - Jul 12, 2012 at 5:14 PM

    The Nats signed this guy to help them get to the next level. We’ll, he, and a lot of other guys, are doing just that so far and the Nats are in first. To jeopardize their post season possibilities by shutting him down early would be STUPID. The guy is a stud (with a rebuilt elbow). Let him pitch. If they don’t, & they miss the Playoffs (or get bounced early if they get in), Rizzo might be run out of town on a rail!!

    • kkolchak - Jul 12, 2012 at 6:49 PM

      “If they don’t, & they miss the Playoffs (or get bounced early if they get in), Rizzo might be run out of town on a rail!!”

      Another dumb comment. If the Nats MAKE the playoffs, something that no DC team has done since 1933, they will build another monument on The Mall and dedicate it to him.

  10. sanzarq - Jul 12, 2012 at 5:15 PM

    The Nats signed this guy to help them get to the next level. Well, he, and a lot of other guys, are doing just that so far and the Nats are in first. To jeopardize their post season possibilities by shutting him down early would be STUPID. The guy is a stud (with a rebuilt elbow). Let him pitch. If they don’t, & they miss the Playoffs (or get bounced early if they get in), Rizzo might be run out of town on a rail!!

    • kinggw - Jul 12, 2012 at 6:05 PM

      I could understand your argument if the Nats only had one quality starting pitcher. The have 3 quality starters in Zimmermann, Gio and Jackson. They have three more serviceable starters in Wang, Detwiler and Lannan. Losing Strasburg isnt a death sentence. Furthermore I dont think many objective Nats fans would be upset if they just miss the playoffs. Most fans expected them to better than they were last year and if everything went right maybe they would challenge for one of the wild card spots. Im happy they are playing well despite all the injuries they had this season, leading the division is gravy at this point.

      • natslady - Jul 12, 2012 at 6:14 PM

        As was pointed out on Nats blogs, Rizzo went out and got Ejax knowing that Stras would be shut down. So he spent $11 million on a free agent “rental,” just for this situation–namely if the Nats were still in it.

  11. yahmule - Jul 12, 2012 at 5:17 PM

    The Nats seem to be quite at peace with this decision and have never wavered, despite constant second guessing from fans and media. The most obnoxious form of this speculation is from the people who seem to just assume they’re going to buckle from the pressure and recant their position as if it’s a foregone conclusion. I’m glad they’re taking the long view and exercising caution with this extraordinary young athlete’s future. I like that Strasburg wants to keep pitching, but I also hope he takes some of the pressure off management by accepting their decision as something that’s being done for the good of the team in the long term.

  12. voteforno6 - Jul 12, 2012 at 5:23 PM

    Boswell does a much better job explaining this than many others (including me).

    I think that the idea of starting him late so he could pitch through September is dumb – despite what some may think, the games in April matter just as much as the ones in September. Skipping starts won’t work too well, either, as they discovered with Jordan Zimmermann last year.

    The shutdown is going to happen. This doesn’t seem to be a hot topic, at least, with the fans that I’ve spoken with at the stadium. There’s a season ticket holder event the first Saturday in August, so maybe someone will ask Rizzo, Davey, and McCatty about it then. I don’t think their answers will be any different.

    • Kevin S. - Jul 12, 2012 at 6:23 PM

      Starting him late would have only really worked if you started him late enough that he could pitch in the playoffs. Of course, then you run the risk of not making the playoffs, in which case he does what? AFL? Simulated games?

  13. Jonny 5 - Jul 12, 2012 at 5:34 PM

    Skip every other outing then use him in the playoffs if you get there. That’s how I would go about it.

  14. randygnyc - Jul 12, 2012 at 7:39 PM

    Rizzo just adamantly reconfirmed, two days before the all star game, that Strasberg WILL be shut down at 160 innings. I believe I saw it on the MLB channel. His comments were in response to questions concerning a playoff run and or games during the postseason. Strasberg will NOT exceed the innings limit. The point is, Rizzo has not made these remarks in a vacuum. They have been as a direct response to the very concerns in this thread. I’d be shocked if the Nats change their position at this point.

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