Nationals Make the Right Call and Shut Down Stephen Strasburg

Updated: September 8, 2012

This has been the year of Inning-Gate. There has been a huge, extended debate in the baseball world about the Washington Nationals’ decision to shutdown ace Stephen Strasburg well before the end of the season. In light of his injury history and his ongoing recovery from Tommy John surgery, the Nationals have said all along that the cap was the cap. Debate notwithstanding, they’ve held fast to their convictions.

The Nats’ decision has been motivated by a concern for Strasburg’s future health and his longterm importance to their viability as a franchise. They are nothing if not farsighted.

I have resisted the temptation to post on this site about the Strasburg debate because I feel the issue has been beaten to death on more mainstream news outlets already, but now that the drama is over I feel its time I can throw my two cents in.

For most of the season, I have absolutely disagreed with the Strasburg decision. I understand it. It makes perfect sense to limit the best pitcher in order to ensure his perpetuation of that status. I just don’t agree.

In my opinion, this is a vitally important season for the Washington Nationals organization.  They have never seriously competed since their move to DC, but they have lead the NL East nearly wire to wire this year. They are in position to make the postseason for the first time since you needed a passport to get to their games and, with a postseason push this year, they could really put the team on the map in a real way. The commercial, financial, publicity, and fan suport implications of this season are enormous. The Nats should do everything in their power to capitalize on this rare opportunity to transform themselves from a baseball “also-ran” into a bona fide big player.

Strasburg is clearly a major piece of this puzzle, both on and off the field. The shots of Stasburg sitting glumly in the dugout while the team is down five  runs in the third inning of a playoff game will not go over well. And don’t give me that crap about the team having a good starting rotation and being ok without Strasburg, because no team in baseball can lose a guy who is 15-5 with a 2.85 ERA and more than 180 Ks in 145 innings, without it being a major blow to their championship hopes.

However, at this point, the Nats made the right call. If we could go back in time, there’s about 100 different ways the team could have handled this situation better (skiping starts in June and July to ensure Strasburg could pitch down the stretch, for instance) but we can’t, so we have to deal with the fact that the story about the innings limit is now more important than the actual limit.

Strasburg has posted two consecutive poor starts and manager Davey Johnson indicated that he thought that the pressure and uncertainty of the innings limit and swarm of media had gotten in his ace’s head. The Nats made the right call to end the madness instead of forcing Strasburg to deal with it possibly at the expense of his performance and confidence–and maybe health.

On balance, I disagree with the innings limit because I think that this season is more important to the franchise than they care to admit. (I also don’t like the way GM Mike Rizzo has been the point man on this. It seems to me that player decisions should be made, or at least advocated publicly, by the manager.) However, I understand the team’s viewpoint and I respect their dedication and stick-to-it-iveness.

Let’s hope everything works out and Nats compete deep into October and contend for the next many years. And let’s hope we get the joy of  watching Stephen Strasburg dominate professional hitters for the next decade plus.

-Max Frankel

Stat of the Day: The last time an MLB team based in Washington DC made the postseason was 1933.

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