Philly Sports Live

Would Strasburg-Like Shutdown Fly in Philly?

Stephen Strasburg

When the Washington Nationals acquired Jayson Werth in free agency following the 2010 season, Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo promised his fan base and the National League that his team was serious about being contenders. While everyone knew they would get better; that they had plenty of young prospective stars, I don’t think anyone expected them to be this good, this fast.

On April 18, the Washington Nationals were 10-3 and leading the NL East. Since then they haven’t looked back. Their current 73-45 record, not only leads the East, but is the best record in MLB. With just 44 games remaining in the regular season and 4½ games in front of the Atlanta Braves, the Nats will be playing baseball in mid-October – the first time the D.C. region will be represented in post-season action since 1933.

From the opening of the season Mike Rizzo and Manager Davey Johnson, have stated that 24 year-old Stephen Strasburg would be on a strict innings count. Strasburg has made a return this year following a missed year due to “Tommy John surgery.” While no one has actually indicated what the “magic number” is (it’s believed it’s between 160-180 innings pitched), Nationals management has firmly stated that Strasburg “will be shutdown.”

With 139.1 innings pitched to date this season, it is believed that Strasburg will reach the management-imposed limit sometime in mid-September.

When I first heard this I thought, okay that might make sense. Rest him up for the remaining two-three weeks of the season so that he’ll be fresh and ready to go for the playoff run. However, I misunderstood their “shutdown” ultimatum. When they say “shutdown,” they mean Shut Down – until next March!

Strasburg is currently the Nationals second best pitcher in their rotation with a 2.91 ERA (only Jordan Zimmerman is better with a 2.38 and 9-7 record). Strasburg’s 14-5 record and 173 strike-outs though is actually the best in their rotation. His ERA ranks him seventh best in the NL, and his paltry 12 homeruns allowed in 24 game appearances is one of the lowest of any starting NL pitcher.

Now, I got to back up the bus here a moment. I can see resting Strasburg the last few weeks of the season; the Nationals are currently 28 games over .500. But, to keep him out of the playoffs poses some major flaws in common sense.

It seems to me Nationals management are making a big assumption – that they’ll be in the playoffs again at some point in the future while they’ve got Strasburg in their employ. This becomes a mind-boggling management model where the generally accepted viewpoint is “win it now,” and frankly I’m hoping the Nationals see an early exit if, for no other reason, then their audaciousness.

And, what of Strasburg himself – how does he feel about it? Strasburg has contended all season long that management has not even told him what the inning number is, and he was widely quoted during the All-Star break as saying that the Nationals “will have to rip the ball out of my hands.” Damn right! Tell me another professional athlete that wouldn’t have the same attitude? Forget that – if you’re a little leaguer and don’t think that way, go home and do paint-by-number at your kitchen table! So, how in the world can Nationals management be so out of step?

Amazingly, according to a Washington Post reprint of a recent survey, the only area of the country that agrees with Nationals management were those people surveyed in the D.C. area. All other 50 states (including Alaska and Hawaii) say “leave him pitch.”

How do you think this strategy would fly with the Philadelphia fan base? In a recent ESPN article, Jayson Stark quoted Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels:

“When you’re working out in November and December, that’s your ultimate goal, to play in the postseason, and if you get that pulled out from under you, what are you playing the game for?”

Perfectly stated! Isn’t that bottom-line? All sports are based upon a simple premise – supremacy. We all want to prove that we’re the best in our sport at that moment, and the concept of “playoffs” has no other purpose than that.  Period.

If that same scenario were to play out in Philadelphia with Cole Hamels, every sports columnist and every fan calling a sports-talk show would be calling for Charlie Manuel and Ruben Amaro’s head.

Apparently that’s not the case in the D.C. region, so at some point around September 15 Davey Johnson will make the walk to the mound, pat Strasburg on the butt and say “thanks for getting us here kid, now hit the showers. We’ll see you in March.”

That’s not fair to Strasburg. That’s not fair to the Nationals fans. That’s not fair to all post-season viewing baseball enthusiasts.