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Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo explain the Strasburg shutdown

Sep 8, 2012, 5:38 PM EDT

Rizzo Johnson Getty Getty Images

We learned earlier today that the Nationals have decided to shut Stephen Strasburg down for the rest of the season rather than have him make one final start Wednesday against the Mets. Here’s how it went down.

According to Mark Zuckerman of, Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he made the decision after Strasburg gave up five runs over three innings last night against the Marlins. He discussed the idea with general manager Mike Rizzo and pitching coach Steve McCatty before going home for the night. Still convinced it was the right decision, Johnson informed Strasburg this morning that he was being shut down effective immediately.

In the end, Johnson and Rizzo agreed that Strasburg was showing signs of physical and mental fatigue and didn’t see much difference between pulling the plug now or on Wednesday.

“He’s had a great year,” Johnson said. “I know what he’s going through for the past couple weeks. The media hype on this thing 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.”

“I think the accumulation of the focus problems and the physical fatigue took its toll on him,” Rizzo said. “I think what the doctors had prescribed for him, the innings parameters, were right on. It was a prudent time to pull the plug. It was a plan we had since Feb. 1. I don’t think too many people should be surprised by it.”

We knew Strasburg was going to be shut down eventually, but he was never formally told how many starts he had left until he met with Rizzo, Johnson and McCatty on Monday. During that meeting, the young right-hander said he was having trouble sleeping thinking about the impending shutdown. Sensing that it was weighing on his mind during his abbreviated start last night, the Nationals decided to end his season.

I mentioned earlier how Johnson cited the unusual amount of “media hype” as something that gradually consumed Strasburg. I had a pretty emotional response about it and that’s because I think the Nationals are partially responsible for this situation blowing up as it did. That said, I was a little harsh on Johnson. Strasburg isn’t a robot and to think he wouldn’t be affected by the national attention it has received would be pretty naive. He’s a competitor after all, so going from pitcher to spectator while the rest of your teammates are gearing up for the postseason must be a pretty lousy feeling. Johnson clearly has his best interests at heart and there was little reason to keep the controversy alive for a few more days if he was going to be shut down anyway.

This situation got bigger than anyone could have anticipated. I suspect that if you caught Mike Rizzo in a moment of candor, he might say that he didn’t expect the team to take off this quickly. And if they could do it all over again, perhaps they would have managed Strasburg’s workload a little bit differently. But that’s baseball for you. The Nationals have decided to take a bold stance with a unique talent and there’s just no way to know right now if it was the right move. We may never know.

  1. bigleagues - Sep 8, 2012 at 5:55 PM

    One thing that has sort of revealed itself in the last 24 hours is that Strasburg really isn’t “fully on board” with this plan – which is what had been stated previously (by either Boras or Rizzo (can’t remember which).

    And another thing that becomes clearer is that this isn’t so much a baseball/medical/Strasburg’s best interests decision as it was an insurance/payroll liability decision.

    They still have a very good team. And anyone that makes the post-season has a chance of winning the whole thing. But each team’s odds are different . . . and the Nats odds just decreased.

  2. proudlycanadian - Sep 8, 2012 at 6:04 PM

    Well written D J!

    • natstowngreg - Sep 8, 2012 at 6:28 PM


      I still agree with DJ that Davey should not have commented on Strasburg’s toughness. Davey didn’t mean to suggest something negative about the kid; just the opposite. But he’s going to get hammered with those words for quite a while.

    • D.J. Short - Sep 8, 2012 at 6:36 PM

      Thanks guys.

      • ramrene - Sep 9, 2012 at 1:55 PM

        Looks to me like after you tried to promote your own opinion on this topic about shutting Strausburg down and after having that opinion beaten back by the many counter position voices you’re finally now trying to understand this topic from the other side.

        Next time, try to understand both sides before you start blogging. It will save you the public embarrassment of having to back track.

    • Tim's Neighbor - Sep 8, 2012 at 8:56 PM

      Agreed. As someone who disagreed with you earlier, this is what I’m used to from you guys at HBT.

  3. sumerduckman - Sep 8, 2012 at 6:36 PM

    They’re treating this kid like a pampered racehorse.

    The decision to curtail his season should be his. He alone knows how his arm ( and mind) is doing.
    His name is Strasburg, not Secretariat.

    • raysfan1 - Sep 8, 2012 at 7:19 PM

      Leaving the decision to a player is not a good idea. Players like Strasburg will invariably say that they are fine and go play. Kerry Wood felt something wrong in his arm even during his 20 strike-out game, didn’t feel right the rest of his rookie year, and never fully lived up to his potential due to injuries. Playing major. League baseball is Steven Strasburg’s life’s dream; he would pitch until his arm fell off.

      While I think the Nationals had other options about how to limit his innings throughout the season, and that they have other options even now potentially, the decision has to be made by the team’s GM and manager.

      • natslady - Sep 8, 2012 at 8:33 PM

        Agree. Let me give two recent examples from the Nats.

        (1) Henry Rodriguez never let on that his elbow hurt. Everyone thought he had “confidence” issues. Turns out he had bone chips the size of asteroids (and they didn’t just get there, according to the trainer, it took a while); they were surgically removed at the end of August and he’s now on the 60-day DL. With a three-month recovery period, he could have had the surgery in May or June and been back for the playoffs. No playoffs for this fireballer with a 100 MPH fastball and a devastating slider.

        (2) Sean Burnett had soreness in his elbow (off and on) most of the season. He was “playing through it.” His control got really bad and he cost the team at least one and maybe two games recently. The only way Davey found out was that after a game Burnett received treatment, which he didn’t normally do. We don’t know when Burnett will pitch again. Could be a week, could be the end of his season. Luckily a pitcher came up from Syracuse, a guy with two TJ’s who has killer stuff.

        Davey and McCatty (pitching coach) have tried and tried to get players to report this type of thing. Jayson Werth–is he a “snitch”?–reported a couple of incidents earlier in the season.

        So two pitchers “played through it” until they ended up costing the team. Never mind whether they may have damaged their own careers–they hurt the team.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 8, 2012 at 8:04 PM

      The decision to curtail his season should be his. He alone knows how his arm ( and mind) is doing.
      His name is Strasburg, not Secretariat.

      Interesting that you choose Secretariat, considering if you read anything about that famous run, the jockey just let the horse take off and do as it pleased…

    • verytalldad - Sep 8, 2012 at 8:08 PM

      Because of course Strasburg is going to come out and say “I am toast this year, bench me coach.” What else would he say other than “I am pissed.”

      This is the best thing for him and the franchise.

      The rest of this underrated team (with the best record in baseball) can handle themselves.

    • rarson - Sep 9, 2012 at 11:48 AM

      “The decision to curtail his season should be his.”

      Yeah, who needs managers anyway? Just let the players decide what to do. It’s worked so well for Boston this year.

  4. ghostofjimlindeman - Sep 8, 2012 at 8:17 PM

    You think Steve Avery would rather be a postseason legend or to tack a few more years on his career? Assuming you will make the playoffs again is a heck of a gamble. Understand the medical concern but health and the future is never certain. Total failure on Nats mgt part on this one. Not sure how rizzo shows his face in that locker room, his stupidity and lack of planning ahead just hurt this club BIG TIME!!

    • natslady - Sep 8, 2012 at 8:51 PM

      Why is it a “total gamble”? Under the new system 1/3 of the teams make the playoffs. There is no reason to expect that the Nats will be a substantially worse team next year than this. They are among the youngest teams in baseball. Only Jayson Werth and Michael Morse are both over 30 and under contract to return. (Oh, right, Chad Tracy–pinch hitter extraordinaire–was renewed). Adam LaRoche has a mutual option. The Nats survived injuries to

      – Drew Storen
      – Ryan Zimmerman
      – Michael Morse
      – Jayson Werth
      – Wilson Ramos (first string catcher)
      – Ian Desmond (All-Star SS)
      – Chad Tracy, Mark DeRosa and other bench players

      It is very true that there can be injuries and underperforming. But it’s far from a “total gamble” that the Nats will make the playoffs before Strasburg becomes a free agent.

      • Kevin Gillman - Sep 8, 2012 at 10:24 PM

        Please, just because you are young does not mean you can pursue the playoffs year in and year out. May I say this is the first time since the Senators were in Washington that the city had a playoff baseball team. Teams adjust to the “young” players every single year, and are more ready to beat them. It’s why the hunters become the hunted.

      • Old Gator - Sep 8, 2012 at 10:36 PM

        “….his stupidity and lack of planning ahead just hurt this club BIG TIME!!”

        This plan was laid out during the last offseason, so you can hardly call it a lack of planning ahead. Having a young pitcher who seems to be running out of gas, has recently had a ligament transplant and whose fatigue is liable to exacerbate the questionable mechanics that helped him tear that ligament in the first place, going out on the mound and giving up four or five runs in three innings will hurt this club “big time.” Caution and protecting their investment in Strasburg’s career won’t.

      • vikesfansteve - Sep 9, 2012 at 9:19 AM

        The NATS also have to count on other teams not getting any better. Strasburg should continue pitching for his own personal reasons if he wants too. This may be the only opportunity he ever has to be on a playoff team.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 8, 2012 at 9:15 PM

      You think Steve Avery would rather be a postseason legend

      Steve Avery is a post season legend? For doing what?

      • Old Gator - Sep 8, 2012 at 10:32 PM

        If I were to put myself in Steve Avery’s place and found myself sitting in my living room year after year watching the playoffs instead of pitching in them while I was still more than young enough to be doing so, I might damned well be willing to give up being a one-shot wonder in return for having a meaningfully long career.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 8, 2012 at 11:53 PM

        Agreed, but that doesn’t make him a legend. When you (collective you, not you specifically OG) start a premise that is false, the remainder of your (collective, again) comment is worthless.

  5. 49ersgiants4life - Sep 9, 2012 at 2:18 AM

    What I don’t understand is if it was a plan for two years why not keep him out April and some of may then let him take you to the promise land in the fall months

  6. ghostofjimlindeman - Sep 9, 2012 at 6:42 AM

    Exactly these guys making excuses for Rizzo above are morons. if you were so concerned about his arm and inning load why not start him in bullpen first like Atlanta did? As for saying Avery was average in playoffs go back look at numbers again before open your ignorant trap. Oh by way know who said he wouldn’t change his inning load or his post season memories for a few more years ? Steve Avery himself. Assuming you will make playoffs “next year” anyone who understands game knows better than to assume anything about playoff runs.

    • shawndc04 - Sep 9, 2012 at 9:23 AM

      Medlin started in the bullpen because he wasn’t able to crack the starting rotation. He made the rotation when guys got hurt or didn’t perform.

  7. areyesrn - Sep 9, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    as a Phillies fan, I laughed at them when Werth said the Nats had a winning plan. The Nats obviously know what they’re doing and I can now respect them for it

  8. stlouis1baseball - Sep 10, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    Well done D.J. As someone who does think it is crazy the Nationals would sit their stud during a run to the playoffs (and subsequent postseason)…you certainly give someone something to think about.
    After all…who am I to say what is right? It certainly isn’t my money.
    If Nationals fans are okay with it…so be it.

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