VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals have made no secret that they will have Stephen Strasburg on an innings limit this season. What the exact number of innings will be, they have not divulged.
This much is certain: There are no plans to force Strasburg to skip starts or otherwise manipulate the innings to keep him pitching deeper into the season. Once that limit is hit, he’ll be shut down.
“There’s not going to be a whole lot of tinkering going on,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Monday. “We’re going to run him out there until his innings are gone and then stop him from pitching.”
There are plenty of reasons for the Nationals to adhere to this type of strategy. First, stretching Strasburg’s starts out wouldn’t accomplish much because the right-hander would still have to throw between outings to keep his arm fresh. Second, it makes little sense to force and irregular pattern on a pitcher who is still returning from major elbow surgery.
There’s also the fact that Strasburg, for all people expect out of him, has thrown just 92 innings in the major leagues.
“He’s a young pitcher that’s still learning how to pitch in the big leagues,” Rizzo said. “I think it’s unfair for him to get him ramped up in spring training, start the season on a regular rotation and then shut him down or skip him. We’re going to make him comfortable — regular rotation, regular rest.”
The question behind the question here, really, was “If the Nationals are contention down the stretch, will they really consider shutting down their ace?” The answer is a resounding yes. They have no plans to mess with his road back from surgery, even the end of the road.
The Nationals can feel comfortable doing so, particularly this year, because of the depth they’ve acquired in starting pitching. They may have to figure out some creative ways to keep all of that depth but if they can, the idea is that when Strasburg is ready to be shut down they’ll have plenty of capable arms to fill the void. Can they replace Strasburg? Probably not. But they certainly don’t expect his replacements to be overmatched.
“I think we’re deep enough that we can do that,” Rizzo said. “We want to give him the best opportunity to get him into the rhythm of being a major league pitcher. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. We’re going to be as careful as we can with everybody. We’re not going to discuss six-man rotations or not starting him until a month later just to get him through his season.”
Update: Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Monday what we’ve all presumed: Strasburg should be in the 150-160 inning range.