Last Monday manager Davey Johnson confirmed to reporters, including Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post, that Tommy John recoveree Stephen Strasburg will not skip starts this season, but will be on a strict innings limit. Strasburg will pitch between 150-160 innings, and will make regular starts until he reaches that limit. General Manager Mike Rizzo also jumped in on the conversation, adding that,
"“We’re going to run him out there until his innings are done … He’s a young pitcher that’s still learning how to pitch in the big leagues. I think it’s unfair to get him ramped up in Spring Training and start the season on a regular rotation and then shut him down or skip him.”"
Rizzo went on to address the possibility of the Nationals entering the playoffs (should they make it) without Strasburg, and said, “There’s not going to be a whole lot of tinkering going on … We’re not going to discuss six-man rotations or [push back his starts until] a month later just to get him through his season,” which basically means that he will not be doing any altering of the starting rotation just to get Strasburg into October. Though Rizzo has changed his mind on things in the past, I don’t expect him to here. He and his team seem committed to making sure that Strasburg becomes the pitcher he is expected to become, and to making sure that he does so with as few road blocks as possible, the biggest one being injury risk of course.
For the short-term, this move is somewhat questionable, because the general consensus amongst media and fans alike is that if things go the way they are supposed to (Werth bounces back, Zimmerman stays healthy, etc.), the Nationals have the pieces they need to make the playoffs this year. So, fans may wonder why Rizzo would essentially deny them that playoff berth by shutting down a pivotal piece of the team. To understand the reasoning behind the decision, they must dissect the logic behind it. Rizzo, Johnson, and the rest of management have already experienced a Strasburg Scare once, when they saw him jerk that right arm against the Phillies in August 2010, and they don’t intend on seeing that ever again. They will do whatever it takes to ensure the success of one of their “Chosen” ones.
For the record, I fully back Rizzo on his decision. And who knows? With the additions of Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson, the Nationals may have the pitching they need to win a playoff game or two even without Strasburg (provided the offense does its part of course). I guess we’ll have to wait until September to find out.
Just to pass along another note regarding Strasburg, he told reporters last Monday that he felt more comfortable with his pitching motion then than he did last September (when he made 5 starts after returning from Tommy John surgery). This is obviously good news, and hopefully means Strasburg will (knock on wood) reach that 150-160 innings limit with no problems.