Stephen Strasburg won’t completely rule out pitching in the playoffs

Either Stephen Strasburg is under strict orders to not give a definitive answer about whether or not he’s pitching in the postseason, or he was just trying to have fun with the MLB Network crew on Monday night. After the Nationals clinched their first NL East division title in team history, Strasburg spoke with analysts Mitch Williams and Harold Reynolds. The conversation was, shall we say, intriguing.

Williams asked Strasburg if there was some sort of “covert operation” going on behind the scenes that nobody knows about that would result in him pitching in the postseason. He gave the following answer (you can watch the interview here).

“Uh, you know, we’ll have to wait and see,” Strasburg said according to D.C. Sports Bog. “I’ve been playing catch and everything. But I think this team is very, very capable of taking it all the way.”

Reynolds then chimed in and said he wasn’t buying the answer, pointing out that Strasburg was smirking. The Nats ace then began smiling even more, and he certainly was given an adequate chance to assure everyone he won’t be pitching — but he didn’t.

“Well, all I can say is it’s pretty tough,” Strasburg added. “But times like these, it just makes it all the better. It was awesome to be able to witness this and experience it, and I know we’re going on to bigger and better things.”

When asked if he would be hitting in the postseason, Strasburg didn’t deny that either. Obviously he wont have a bat in his hands, so it’s possible he was just having some fun and didn’t want to give any definitive answers. That being said, the Nationals seem pretty intent on shutting him down until next season. Does that mean he won’t throw an inning in relief if the team feels they could use him? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Photo Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

Doctor who performed Stephen Strasburg surgery: No studies support shutdown

Through all the uproar they have created over shutting Stephen Strasburg down prior to the postseason, the Nationals front office has maintained that they are looking out for the best interests of their ace. That is obviously the goal, and GM Mike Rizzo and the Washington owners have every right to protect their investment, but it is interesting to note that the team did not consult Dr. Lewis Yocum, the man who performed the elbow surgery on Strasburg.

“I wasn’t asked,” Dr. Yocum told the LA Times. “There’s no statistic as far as studies. “It’s based on Mike’s experience. Mike is extremely confident. His track record speaks for itself. Zimmermann did extremely well.”

Yocum is referring to Jordan Zimmerman, who had Tommy John surgery in 2009 before returning to pitch 31 innings in 2010. He was then capped at 161 1/3 last season before not missing a start this year and putting together an impressive 3.01 ERA. It worked for Zimmerman, so Rizzo is taking the same approach with Strasburg — playoffs or no playoffs.

Again, Strasburg is the Nationals’ investment and it is ultimately their choice to decide how to handle him. However, fans should know that the shutdown isn’t simply the result of doctor’s orders. Or not the one who performed the procedure, at least.

Fist pound to Hardball Talk
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Dennis Eckersley: The Nationals will have to pitch Stephen Strasburg in playoffs

If you think the Stephen Strasburg innings limit is a big story now, just wait another month or so. When the Nationals initially decided to place a ceiling on how much Strasburg can pitch after his return from Tommy John surgery, they likely were not thinking about the postseason. The playoffs are a novel concept in the nation’s capital, so GM Mike Rizzo and company probably weren’t looking too far down the road. With the Nationals looking like a great bet to win the NL East, reports have surfaced that Strasburg will be shut down for the year before the playoffs.

Like most of us, Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley doesn’t see how that is going to work.

“They’ve done the math, they know what they’re doing,” Eckersley said earlier this week according to DC Sports Bog. “If they mean it, I guess they mean it. To me, when it happens, I’ll believe it. Because how do you go into the playoffs and say Strasburg’s not pitching?

“To me, I know Strasburg wants the ball. There’s no doubt about it. But the day will come and everybody’s gonna be waiting for that day, because I don’t think it is. They’re gonna have to pitch him. I’m telling you. I can’t imagine not.”

I couldn’t agree more. If you’re a Nationals fan, you’re probably in denial right now. The team hasn’t made the playoffs since they were the Montreal Expos in 1981. They haven’t finished with a winning record in any season since moving to D.C. in 2005. Can the team really lessen their chances of making a World Series run by shutting down a 24-year-old phenom who has a sub-3.00 ERA on the season? That’s why I’m with Eckersley — there’s simply no way they can.

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Stephen Strasburg will reportedly not pitch in the postseason

As the Nationals continue to roll through the regular season and charge toward the playoffs, there is one rather large dark cloud hanging over the organization. Stephen Strasburg is on an innings cap. The right-hander has been nothing short of dominant throughout most of his 133 innings this season, but all signs point to Washington GM Mike Rizzo sticking to the plan and limiting Strasburg to somewhere between 160 and 180 innings.

According to the MLB.com blog All Nats All the Time, Strasburg is expected to miss two or three regular season starts and be shut down before the postseason.

Strasburg, who is on an innings limit after having Tommy John surgery in late 2010, more than likely will pitch no more than 180 innings this season. There was talk of Strasburg pitching 160 innings this year, but the source said those amount of innings are not set in stone.

The same source went so far as to say Strasburg will not pitch in the postseason once he is shut down.

That is a frightening thought for Nationals fans. We know how important pitching is in the postseason and we know how important Strasburg has been to their pitching staff. The 24-year-old already made it clear that the coaches are going to have to pry the ball from his fingers if they want to shut it down, but it sounds like they intend to do just that. John Smoltz recommended an interesting approach that Strasburg could take to extend his season, but at this point it doesn’t like like he intends to take that advice.

Could this simply be a smokescreen for the rest of the NL? It’s possible, but it doesn’t sound like it. The Nationals came into the season with a plan, and it is starting to look like they will stick to it. It will be interesting to see if pressure from the media and fans alters their approach late in September.

H/T Hardball Talk
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Davey Johnson harsh on himself, Stephen Strasburg after ugly Nats loss

After getting out to a 9-0 lead on Friday, the Nationals found themselves on the losing end of an 11-10 loss after a stunning comeback by the Braves. It was a game Nats manager Davey Johnson called “probably the worst I’ve ever managed in my career.” Johnson was just as unforgiving with Stephen Strasburg, who went five scoreless innings before allowing four runs in the sixth, when Johnson gave him the hook.

“He felt like he was missing, but I felt like he just wasn’t going after them,” Johnson told the Washington Post. “He wasted a lot of pitches. He really doesn’t know who he is at times. He doesn’t trust his stuff. It was a little avoiding contact, trying to make too good of pitches. I know they’re a pretty good-hitting ballclub, but he’s got pretty good stuff.

“Another thing, too, when you throw a lot of pitches to hitters they get a better gauge on you. It’s easier to hit. You see 2-3 fastballs missed, it’s easier to start gauging somebody. It’s a lot tougher when you go right after them and they’ve got to put it in play.”

Jeez. It’s as if Johnson forgot Strasburg was actually still in line to win the game when he was pulled, and that it was shoddy bullpen work that ultimately let that win slip away. Kind of unfair for Johnson to get all grouchy about Strasburg when we know the Nats ace wasn’t going to get a chance to right the ship anyway.

On the other hand, Strasburg has struggled of late, earning losses in three of his last five starts. So, this could have been an instance of underlying frustrations finally rising to the surface. Natitude!

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John Smoltz: Stephen Strasburg should fake injuries to manipulate innings cap

John Smoltz has a solution to the Stephen Strasburg problem. As you may know, the Nationals placed a 160-inning limit on Strasburg prior to this season since he is recovering from Tommy John surgery. With Washington currently leading the NL East and in a prime position to make the playoffs, they can ill afford to lose their ace when the most important stretch of the season hits in September. Smoltz’s recommendation? Fake a couple injuries and take the time off now — not in two months.

“Honestly, I know this is gonna sound, well, I’m a little bit different anyways,” Smoltz told ESPN Radio’s Scott Van Pelt according to DC Sports Bog. “I’d create my own little gap. I’d have a blister one day, maybe a hangnail the next start. You know, I think there’s ways to do it. And I get it — their statement is every game counts. Well, it does, but it doesn’t count as much as in September.

“You’re in your own division, you can either lengthen your gap or close the gap. And I just think that’s gonna be hard to explain to 23, 24 other players, why this guy is going to (not pitch).”

Strasburg may have to do just that. Having emerged as one of the best pitchers in the National League, the 23-year-old has already said the Nationals will have to rip the ball out of his hands if they want him to shut it down. At the moment, GM Mike Rizzo insists Washington is going to stick to the plan because they believe it is best for Strasburg and the franchise.

Is Smoltz’s approach morally correct? Maybe not, but if I’m Strasburg and I thought the team was really going to limit me to a 160 innings I’d want to find a way to still be pitching in late September and October.

H/T Hardball Talk
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Stephen Strasburg on Nationals’ innings cap: ‘They’re going to have to rip the ball out of my hands’

Stephen Strasburg is a long-term investment for the Nationals. The best thing to do with your long-term investments — especially when they are only 23 years old and have some of the nastiest stuff in the league — is to protect them. Washington had itself a scare last season when Strasburg needed Tommy John surgery, but he has bounced back extremely well. The right-hander has a 9-4 record to go along with an impressive 2.82 ERA. He is tied for the Major League lead with 128 strikeouts. Believe it or not, the success he has been having could create a major problem for the Nats later in the year.

Since he has come back from major surgery and has a long career ahead of him, the Nationals have decided to limit Strasburg to 160 innings this season. He has thrown 99 already, and Washington leads the NL East by four games over the Braves. What will they do if they end up in a pennant race?

“They’re going to have to rip the ball out of my hands,” Strasburg told MLB Network Radio according to ESPN.com. “I have no clue how many innings I’m going to throw this year. I’ve answered that question multiple times, and nobody’s said anything to me. I feel great right now.”

If GM Mike Rizzo and the Nationals stick to their word, Strasburg is on pace to be shut down at the beginning of September. That means he would not be able to pitch in the all-important final two weeks of the season and would not be available for the playoffs. From a health standpoint, it might be the smart thing to do. From a PR standpoint, the Nationals had better prepare to fireproof their stadium somehow. Because if they shut down their ace and wind up missing the playoffs or being bounced early because of it, Washington fans just may burn that baby to the ground.

Photo Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE