- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Davey Johnson has heard plenty about the Washington Nationals’ plan to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg. But the manager opened up Wednesday’s pregame press conference asking for more.

“Any more ideas on how to get Strasburg pitching in October?” Johnson said. “I seem to be getting more and more help on that aspect.”

Everyone’s got a suggestion. Limit him to a handful of innings each start? Convert him into a reliever? Johnson has heard it all.

“The best one I got was trip him when he’s in the outfield so he strains a hamstring or something and he’s got to be down for a month,” he said with a chuckle. “That was a good one; I liked that one.”

Johnson said he gets a lot of text messages and letters, but no tweets because he’s not on “Tweeter.” He admitted, “I wish we could get by this Stras thing,” but knows that won’t happen.

Instead, there’s a ticking clock on the 2009 No. 1 overall pick who had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2010. He has thrown 145 1/3 innings so far and has a limit that has not been made public by the organization

Johnson has spoken with general manager Mike Rizzo and has a rough idea when the shutdown will come.

“It depends on how many innings I let him pitch leading up to it. He’s been averaging right around six innings. You guys should be able to do the math on that,” Johnson said. “I don’t think the innings number is cut in stone. The science is not that exact. There’s a little leeway there. But that’s down the road.”

Strasburg is expected to be able to make at least four more starts, going until Sept. 12 at the New York Mets, or perhaps five, which would take him to Sept. 19 vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Johnson said he thinks he’ll need another pitcher to fill in for Strasburg for two or three regular-season starts. Lefty John Lannan figures to be the leading candidate for that spot.

If Strasburg pitches Sept. 19, he would miss two regular-season starts, which could come Sept. 24 vs. the Milwaukee Brewers and Sept. 29 a the St. Louis Cardinals.

A year after shutting down Jordan Zimmermann, Johnson wondered why there wasn’t this kind of hubbub then. Naturally it being Strasburg and the Nats being in a pennant race changes the landscape.

With Zimmermann, Johnson “let the cat out of the bag” a little early by revealing that Tom Milone would start a game last year. When Strasburg is done, it won’t be so much of a secret.

“Everybody in the world will know on this one,” Johnson said.

That includes Strasburg, whom Johnson said will be told of the timing before his penultimate start.

For now, Johnson said the 24-year-old isn’t thinking about the innings limit.

“He’s pretty focused,” the manager said. “He’s not concerned about when; he’s just going to take the ball when we give it to him.”

Division priority

Given Major League Baseball’s addition of a second wild card in each league, there’s a greater importance put on a team capturing its division. Now, the wild cards face off in a one-game playoff, while the division winners get to sit back and wait.

“There’s really more pressure on you to win your division. There’s 10 times more pressure,” Johnson said Monday. “[The second-place Braves] know it. Getting the wild card before, you’re in the playoffs. Now you get the wild card and you’ve got a one-game playoff and that puts you really behind the eight-ball because you’ll probably use your best pitcher in that one-game playoff.”

Shortstop Ian Desmond said the Nats aren’t at all worried about thinking that far ahead. But with a seven-game lead on Atlanta going into Tuesday night’s game, it’s becoming easier to envision an NL East pennant hanging at Nationals Park.

“I think everybody knows the advantages of winning the division. Winning the wild card isn’t in our minds,” Chad Tracy said. “We’re here to win this thing and I don’t think anybody in here’s probably even thought about being a wild-card team. We’re here to win this thing, and that’s what we plan on doing.”

September call-ups

If winning the division is thinking too far ahead, perhaps Sept. 1 and the expansion from 25-man rosters to 40 is a little better.

Johnson expects the Nats to call up five or six players in September.

“The majority of them, if not all of them, will have been here,” he said. “Maybe one exception. But we had him in the spring.”

Lannan and outfielder Corey Brown figure to be on the list, along with possibilities such as infielder Anthony Rendon and pitchers Yunesky Maya and Christian Garcia. Garcia is not on the 40-man roster, but the club has one more spot it can use.