In his office at Nationals Park Sunday morning, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson sat relaxed at his desk, feet up, discussing what the rain pounding the D.C. area and washing away his team’s finale with the Miami Marlins did to his pitching staff.
“Nada,” Johnson said, informing a small group of reporters that the team would be keeping its starting rotation in line. Gio Gonzalez (Sunday’s projected starter) Tuesday, Jordan Zimmermann Wednesday, Edwin Jackson Thursday, Ross Detwiler Friday and Stephen Strasburg Saturday.
Told that decision ensured Strasburg would not face off with N.L. Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in a match-up of two of the most talented pitchers in the big leagues, Johnson’s face lit up a little — as if he was, at least for a moment, pondering if he could still make it happen.
The problem, of course, with the Nationals’ pitchers having worked to the best ERA in the major leagues, was deciding who to leave out.
“I mean, who do you want me to drop?” Johnson said.
“Usually your fifth starter is more of a veteran guy and you would bump him and keep the other guys more in line,” he added. “But, in this case, they’re all good and you can just keep them in line.”
The Nationals could have used the opportunity in front of them — essentially two off days in a row — to juggle their staff. They could have skipped someone to try and squeeze Strasburg in against Kershaw Friday night. They could have also skipped him and saved the 6-9 innings they’ll likely get out of their innings-limited ace for a start down the road this season. Either decision would have come with plenty of logistical wrangling for Strasburg and the rest of the staff and the Nationals saw no reason to do so.
“One of the worst things you can do to any pitcher is to give them too much time between starts,” Johnson said. “Regularity is what they need. All of them.”
Johnson decided to end Strasburg’s day Saturday after just six innings and 93 pitches — and a 23-pitch sixth — for a number of reasons. First, the pitcher was due up first in the sixth in what was then a scoreless game with his team searching for offense. Second, the sixth was taxing for Strasburg as he surrendered a one-out double to Jose Reyes and, with two outs, walked Hanley Ramirez.
After the game, Johnson noted that he easily could have sent Strasburg out for the seventh inning but he thought that inning, down the road, would be more valuable than it would be in that moment. It’s not a part of the equation he’d like to factor in often, but he did think about it.
“I don’t like that entering the equation,” Johnson said. “And I’m sure he doesn’t either, but I’m going to basically treat him like, if he’d had an easy sixth, I’d let him hit, give him one more inning, but it was a little too many pitches.”