It’s something unprecedented in Major League Baseball, and pretty much any other professional sport: The Washington Nationals, as stated from the start of the season, plan to shut down ace starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg when he hits the pre-determined innings pitched cap set by physicians, and the team general manager, Mike Rizzo.
The problem is, Washington is leading the NL East, and is widely considered the team to beat in the National League right now. Maybe the Nationals didn’t think they’d be in the pennant race this late in the season when they laid out their plan to bench their fireballing ace…but then again, maybe they did.
So is this judicious management of a young player on behalf of his health and future, or just smoke and mirrors?
The term “shut down” is the one being most widely thrown around when it comes to the status of Strasburg, who is just one year removed from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow. But what does that term really mean?
All it really means is that they aren’t going to start him. They could put him on the disabled list for a minimum of 15 days. They could make him inactive and call up another pitcher from the minor leagues. No one is really sure, and the Nationals aren’t offering any extra information.
That said, is it possible this whole Stephen Strasburg shut down scenario is a smokescreen? It wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Strasburg’s agent is the venomous Scott Boras, and it wouldn’t be beyond the scope of possibility that Boras, Rizzo, and all other parties involved have hatched a little scheme to catch other clubs asleep at the wheel.
Boras has made passive aggressive legal threats in public regarding the Strasburg situation, saying that there could be “legal ramifications” if the Nationals don’t follow the advice of physicians and shut him down. But has anyone really seen a doctor’s note, or heard directly from any qualified physicians who have examined Strasburg and recommended this action? There’s just a lot of fluff being thrown around the whole situation.
Let’s say the Nationals put Strasburg on the 15-day DL right around the end of August, and then 15-day DL him once again when the first 15 is up, carrying him to the very end of September, and the playoffs. There would be nothing stopping Washington from having Strasburg on their active roster for the post-season at that point.
The chances that the Nationals would miss the playoffs even not having Strasburg pitch for the last month of the season are slim. They lead the NL East by four games over the Atlanta Braves, and are a full nine games better than the Pittsburgh Pirates for the second NL wild card position. Short of them having a Boston Red Sox/Atlanta Braves type collapse in September, they are almost assured of a playoff spot.
Then you’ll have a Nationals team with an ace pitcher who lives and dies by his fastball who has been rested for a month and is ready to mow hitters down in the post-season.
Remember, Washington hasn’t seen a baseball team go to the post-season since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in his first term as president. Does it seem likely that they are going to waltz into the playoffs with their best player riding the pine?
No, you may not see Strasburg pitch down the stretch for the pennant run, but dollars to donuts he’s toeing that rubber when the red, white and blue bunting is hanging all over Nationals Park in October.