The Washington Times - September 2, 2012, 08:16PM

By Tom Schad

Stephen Strasburg didn’t have much to say when asked about his looming shutdown, but manager Davey Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo sure did.

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“The plan was in place, it couldn’t have gone any better,” Rizzo said following Washington’s 4-3 win over the Cardinals. “[Strasburg] has pitched extremely well, and a couple more starts under his belt, it’ll really lay a solid foundation for 2013 for him where he can take the ball and run with it and win a lot of games for us.”

Strasburg struck out nine and allowed just two hits – both to Matt Holliday – in his 27th start of the season Sunday, two outings before his final start on September 12 against the New York Mets. He located his fastball and curveball throughout the afternoon and used his changeup only sparingly. He was, as Johnson said, “vintage Strasburg.”

“He’s been going strong,” Johnson said. “I’ve been hooking him a little early because of the innings count. I think he had another inning in his tank, but I also didn’t want to run it up and maybe cost him a start.”

Rizzo said everything is working out according to plan. John Lannan returned to the team Saturday and will presumably fill Strasburg’s slot in the starting rotation after the shutdown.

“That was part of our plan at the beginning – to be very deep at starting pitcher,” Rizzo said.

“I think we’ve got four of the top pitchers in the National League. I think all of them can go out there and win you a game under duress in a playoff atmosphere.”

The Nationals’ situation has grown into a national story line despite the fact that a decision on the innings limit was made five months ago. The Nationals always have said they plan to rest Strasburg after 160-180 innings like they did with Jordan Zimmermann last season, but questions persist. And strong outings like Sunday’s only intensify the debate.

“It’s a good conversational piece, it’s a good debatable subject,” Rizzo explained. “But most of the people that have weighed in on this know probably 10 percent of the information that we know, and that we’ve made our opinion based upon.”

“We’ve been consistent with every player in the developmental system, and we’ve treated them all the same: with as much care as Stephen Strasburg. Just because we’re in a different position in the standings, we’re not going to forego my philosophy of player development and keeping pitchers healthy. We’re being consistent with it throughout.”