Last night come rain, thunder, or lightning, Stephen Strasburg made one of his last starts of the 2012 season. The right-hander’s pitch meter now sits at 145 1/3 innings with his impending shutdown looming. Strasburg—notwithstanding the Nationals winning record—has propelled the Nationals to become of the hottest topics across the nation on. General Manager Mike Rizzo is standing by his plan to eventually shut the pitcher down. There is no clear innings limit, although it’s speculated to be around 160-180 innings.
Now everyone has suddenly become and expert and has an opinion about shutting down Stephen Strasburg, whether that is a yes or no. There are a lot of questions and (unknown) variables that factor into the impending Strasburg shutdown.
- Why should the Nationals shut down Strasburg, arguably one of their top pitchers if they’re in the hunt for the postseason?
- Will Strasburg resent the Nationals for shutting him down?
- What if the Nationals don’t shut Strasburg down? How will that affect his arm and career in the future?
- Will the Nationals still be able to compete without Strasburg?
There’s also a lot of other theories surrounding how the Nationals could (or some people think should handle Strasburg’s situation);
- Skip starts
- Go to a six man rotation
- Reduce his innings
Among all these questions and suggested solutions, many people are forgetting that the Nationals followed this same shut down procedure last year with pitcher Jordan Zimmermann who also had Tommy John surgery.
Now this season, Jordan Zimmerman’s become one of the best pitchers in the game with a 2.54 ERA and 9-7 record with 116 strikeouts—fourth on the Nationals pitching staff behind Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Jackson respectively.
Last season when the Nationals shut Zimmermann down they were 18 ½ games out of first place, a drastic change from this season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll change Mike Rizzo’s mind. It won’t probably, considering the plan to shut Strasburg down occurred long before the Nats 2012 miracle season did—all the way back during the Winter Meetings last December.
There was also never any plan to have Strasburg pitch on any altered schedule—skipped starts, six man rotation or otherwise—Mike Rizzo wanted Strasburg to pitch on as consistent of a schedule and rotation as possible.
Mike Rizzo has said the decision to shut down Strasburg is purely his own despite the critics—even from his own father, Phil Rizzo, a lifetime baseball scout.
“Even my dad says, ‘Let him pitch,” said Mike Rizzo.
The reasoning behind Mike Rizzo’s decision on the Strasburg shutdown lies is Strasburg himself, particularly Strasburg’s health. Despite the fact that the Nationals will almost certainly be competing in the postseason now, Rizzo knows that the recovery timetable for Tommy John surgery is typically a two-year process. Strasburg only made his return from Tommy John last fall before starting the 2012 season on time. Yet, even as the Nationals and Mike Rizzo erring on the side of caution, there’s no definite proof that indicates a more conservative approach with prevent injury or ability for the pitcher in the future. However, it does help at least delay (if not eliminate and prevent) an injury instead of speeding the process up.
Even so, with the somewhat delicate approach that’s being taken with Strasburg’s elbow, many forget that the pitcher has not yet pitched a full major league season. So while there are the critics who think shutting down Strasburg for his elbow may not have any effect on him, the combination of his reconstructed elbow and stress of a pitching a full major league season may have other undesirable effects, such as yes, another injury.
Naturally, the first critic of shutting down Strasburg very well may be Strasburg himself. He went on record earlier in the season saying that the team would have to “rip the ball out of my hands,” although he did later come to say “I know they have my best interst at heart, so I’ve got to trust what they want me to do, just roll with it.” The debate isn’t about letting Strasburg pitch in the postseason, but being able to have Strasburg healthy and at full power to pitch in future postseasons.
Any team would love to have their ace help them win a championship, but Rizzo understands the recovery necessary for Strasburg’s arm. And if at the very least, shutting down Strasburg can’t hurt the pitcher anymore. While he may not like the decision, the team is inherently doing their best to keep him as healthy as they can.
Strasburg is one of the premiere pitchers on the staff, but it’s important to bear in mind while he’s hard to replace, there are other pitchers on the staff who would be able to fill in more than adequately. Granted they wouldn’t be any type of a ‘Strasburg’ in terms of the power and velocity that Strasburg commands, but they are still completely capable.
Gio Gonzalez has exerted his dominance this season with an NL leading 16-4 record. Edwin Jackson, who’s come across some hard luck this season has still pitched well—and he has postseason pitching experience. Jordan Zimmermann, in his first full season has established himself as a dominant member of the rotation with the lowest ERA (2.54) of the starters. Plus, when looking at the pitching staff as a whole, the Nationals leaded the Major Leagues with a 3.24 ERA.
Shutting down Strasburg isn’t the end of the world. It’s not going to drastically hurt the Nationals in the postseason, either, because Strasburg is just one man who still susceptible to losing games, despite the impenetrable superman powers some think he has.
When all is said and done, the Nationals are guarding Strasburg’s health first. Before the Nationals even drafted him, he was highly touted as a special talent, the once-in-a-100-years kind. Knowing that, the Nationals want to make sure their golden arm isn’t just healthy now, but for seasons, years and postseasons to come. Postseason titles would be nice now, but the Nationals aren’t just playing for now.
There’s been many who’ve called this 2012 team a ‘team of destiny’ and a ‘miracle team.’ But in reality, they’re the team with the grace of the baseball gods and miracle destiny dust sprinkled on them because there’s never been one before. And while you can’t predict baseball, just because there’s a miracle team this year doesn’t mean the Nationals have hit their quota on good baseball for all of time. They’re not built just to win now, they’re built to win and be in contention in future years—with a healthy, full-force, fire throwing Stephen Strasburg.