- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2012


Based on my totally unscientific measurements, about 90 percent of the national media have blasted Washington for Project Shutdown Stephen Strasburg. But of the 10 percent that support general manager Mike Rizzo’s decision, the overwhelming majority is based in the D.C. metro area.

That means one of two things: Either the local media are lapdogs who eagerly slurp up whatever the Nationals put out. Or our proximity and inherent interest in the long-term strategic planning makes us more understanding.

Mark me down for the latter, and I’ll take it a step further. Anyone who sharply criticizes the shutdown — which commenced after Strasburg’s three-inning outing Friday, one start earlier than originally announced — couldn’t care less about Strasburg’s health and future.

If the Nats were en route to 90 losses instead of 90 wins, no one would think twice about the decision. Being prudent and cautious with arguably baseball’s best young pitcher would be deemed a wise course of action. No need to take chances with his surgically repaired, prized right arm when the team is hopelessly out of contention.

Besides, we knew this was coming since February. Back then it was “Wow, are they really going to sit him down if they’re contenders? The question has morphed into an exclamation: “I can’t believe they’re going to sit him down when they’re contenders!”

But basing the move on this season’s record would’ve been the epitome of short-sightedness, the essence of negligence and the evidence of hypocrisy.

Naturally, Strasburg is among those who disagree with that assessment. “Honestly, I’m not too happy about it,” he told reporters Saturday after manager Davey Johnson informed him that the Citi Field finale wasn’t happening. “I want to keep pitching out there,” he said.

I wouldn’t expect him to say anything else.

He could’ve thrown a tantrum as some suggested, kicking and screaming “Hell no, I’m gonna throw!” A staggering number of former players advocated that position, including MLB Network’s Jim Kaat, who in an open letter to Strasburg wrote: “Good luck with your decision, Stephen. But please remember — it’s your career, your arm, your decision. Nobody else’s.”

Uh, no. It’s not Strasburg’s call when he’s pulled for the season, just like it’s not his call when he’s pulled from a game. But a slew of retired players said they wouldn’t let it happen to them. “If I was Stephen Strasburg,” Cal Ripken said on SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio, “I’d be making a lot of noise, saying, ‘I’M PITCHING.’”

Yeah, right. Ripken, Kaat and the other tough guys would take a seat and suffer like Strasburg.

“I don’t know if I’m ever going to accept it, to be honest with you,” he said. ” You don’t grow up dreaming of playing in the big leagues to get shut down when the games start to matter.”

You also don’t dream of undergoing Tommy John surgery after pitching just 68 innings in the big leagues.

Strasburg’s injury gets all the blame, just as Jordan Zimmermann’s did last year. But Rizzo actually is following an evolving school of thought on limiting the workload for young pitchers, period. It’s a proactive measure, regardless of a pitcher’s history but especially after surgeries.

The Nats have done exhaustive studies of statistics and medical opinions, which as a decision-making basis is much sounder than consulting the NL East standings.

As much as he hates the move, Strasburg gets it. “I think I’ve got some world renowned doctors, one of them Dr. [Lewis] Yocum,” he said. “He resurrected my career. I gotta listen to him, and I gotta trust him.”

The Nats have his best interests at heart, which are synonymous with the franchise’s in the long run, not just 2012. Yes, he can get hit by a bus, anyway. Or blow out his elbow on the next pitch. Or play for 10 seasons that never achieve this level of success. You can’t plan for those outcomes.

But judicious minds make the best plans they can. Strasburg’s long-range health trumps the two months he’ll miss, and it’s not even close. If the majority of national media and ex-players can’t get that through their skulls, at least the team’s brain trust understands.

“This decision was made well before the start of the year,” Strasburg said. “I play for the Washington Nationals. I play to help this team win games. And that’s the bottom line. I’m not the one making the calls.”

Thank goodness, because he might pitch ‘til his arm fell off.



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