Strasburg Shutdown Early?

As expected, Steven Strasburg’s shutdown has came and went. The unexpected aspect is the announcement came this afternoon, after Strasburg was roughed up for his worst outing of his young career. As recently as last week, manager Davey Johnson and the Nationals brass had set a September 12th date for Srasburg’s impending shutdown date. While there is much debate and hoopla concerning this delicate situation, many wonder if the Nationals handling of this situation was correct.

Friday night in Miami, Strasburg started what would be his final start of the season. Going into this start, the idea of getting shutdown after September 12th was already set in stone, but from the get-go, Strasburg wasn’t there. He lasted a career worst 3 innings, giving up 6 hits and 2 home runs before being pinch-hit for. Manager Davey Johnson believes the poor start can be attributed to many thoughts of his shutdown date looming. He feels mentally, not physically, this wore down on him. In his first season after undergoing elbow replacement surgery, commonly known as Tommy John surgery, Strasburg finished with a 15-6 record, 3.16 ERA in 159 1/3 innings while striking out 197 batters.

The Nationals similarly treated another pitcher in their staff with the same sort of caution. Jordan Zimmerman a year before, experienced the same fate as Strasburg and underwent Tommy John surgery. Like Strasburg, the Nationals gave him an innings limit and last year pitched only 161 1/3 innings before being shutdown. This season, Zimmerman was given no limit and currently sits at 171 2/3 innings with a few weeks remaining in the season as well as a postseason load he will have to undertake.

Last year, Strasburg came back late in the season after recovering from Tommy John Surgery, and was able to make a handful of starts before the season ended. The only considerable difference between last season and this season, is the Nationals became instant contenders this year after making a considerable amount of deals to improve their club. With the team enjoying their best season since moving to DC, and the franchise’s best season since the strike shortened season of ’94, many are questioning the Nationals handling of Strasburg’s inning count.

Many people will agree that they are right for setting the innings limit at 160, but their handling was a little questionable. Could the Nationals have skipped periodical starts here and there? When the team added players of the likes of Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, and called up the future in Bryce Harper, they showed they were committed in winning now. So why not skip a couple starts for Strasburg early in the season? They could have very well had him start in the bullpen at the beginning of the season, work 3 innings at a time here and there and have him work his way up from there. Especially since he did not eclipse 7 innings in any start this season, it could have very well stretched him out a couple of starts.

I agree with the way the situation was handled for the most part, considering Strasburg represents the future of the Nationals pitching staff and they do not want to sacrifice injuring him the season based on a run which could end after one round, but why not go for it now. I think they are at the right time to go for it, with the Phillies having a serious off-season, the Marlins and Mets in a tumultous time, they are enjoying their best season to date, why not go all in? The only argument against, is that the future is bright in DC and with Harper getting experience at the big league level, they could dominate the division for years to come.

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