Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson was on the hunt for his ace right-hander Monday morning. He was in search of Stephen Strasburg, finally ready to have the conversation that had loomed since the first ball was thrown in spring training.
Johnson sat down with Strasburg, along with pitching coach Steve McCatty and general manager Mike Rizzo, to discuss with him, for the first time, the organization’s plans to shut him down before the end of the season.
Strasburg will make two more starts, which means, barring rain or an altering in the schedule, Strasburg’s swan song on this charmed season will come Sept. 12 at Citi Field in New York. John Lannan is expected to assume Strasburg’s start in the rotation for the remainder of the regular season.
Asked how the conversation went, Jonson quipped: “Well, he hates McCatty more than he did before the meeting. And me. And Rizzo.”
“It’s no secret that Stras is an intense competitor,” Johnson added more seriously.”He wants to be here. Wants to be contributing. Wants to be helping. And I’m sure it’s probably eating him up more than anybody involved, this whole thing, because he wants to be here helping his teammates. He’s worked harder than anybody coming back from that surgery, and this is what you dream about being a part of. I know how he feels.”
The Nationals’ plan to shut down Strasburg has been in place since last August when he prepared to make his return to the major leagues following 2010 Tommy John surgery. It is similar to the plan they used with right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, who underwent the procedure almost exactly a year before Strasburg and had only slightly more major league innings under his belt before he suffered his tear of the ulnar collateral ligament.
The team has never wavered on the plan to shut their ace down, despite their record this season and what seems to be an almost certain playoff berth.
“The plan was in place,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Sunday afternoon after Strasburg led the Nationals to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis 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.”
“We’ve been consistent with every player in the developmental system,” Rizzo added. “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.”
The Nationals have been either roundly criticized or praised for what they’re doing, depending on the day or the opinion that’s being heard the loudest, but Rizzo has held firm on the plan since the very beginning and Johnson has supported him.
Strasburg had thrown 167 total professional innings before the start of the 2012 season, and those were spread across 2010 and 2011 as he made his electric major league debut and then rehabbed from the surgery. This season he has thrown 156 1/3 innings and with two more starts he will likely end up with roughly 170 innings.
Asked if Strasburg at least understood what the organization was doing, Johnson said, “probably not.”
“The way I look at things, the job the (Lerner family) and the front office have done building this organization, I don’t look at this as the only chance you’re going to get to be in the postseason or be in the World Series,” Johnson said. “This team wasn’t just piecemealed together for one year. It’s built to last. And we’re trying to make sure it lasts.
“There’s tons of records to validate this decision.”