After a forgettable weekend being swept by the Phillies and scoring only 5 runs in 3 games, the Washington Nationals are headed to Miami, where the Nats’ Stephen Strasburg will be taking the mound. Strasburg is hoping to end the Nationals’ 4-game losing skid in what will likely be one of his last starts this year, despipte the Nationals’ probably making the playoffs.
For those of you unfamiliar with “Stras” and his current situation, here’s a little bit of background: The Washington Nationals drafted Stephen in the first round of the 2009 Major League Baseball draft out of San Diego State University. Stras had two years of collegiate pitching experience and was part of the 2008 US Olympic team that lost to Cuba in the Beijing Olympics. He was the most closely-watched pitcher in draft history, and when the Nationals signed him ($15 million for 4 years), great things were expected of Strasburg.
So the kid gets to make his Major League debut in June of 2010 and is an instant sensation. He struck out 14 batters in his debut on June 9 and 32 batters in his first 3 Major League starts. The guy was practically unhittable! Well, in August of that year, Stephen ends up tearing a ligament in his throwing elbow, which required Tommy John surgery (a procedure where they take a ligament from somewhere else in your body or from a cadaver and attach it to your elbow). This surgery requires a lot of rehab – usually a year or so.
So in August of 2011, Strasburg made his comeback by starting a rehab assignment with the single-A Hagerstown Suns (a game that my husband and I attended). Stras made 5 other minor-league starts and moved up to the majors in September, where he pitched 24 innings in 5 starts. Strasburg was doing OK; his elbow had healed nicely and big things were expected from him for the 2012 season.
So how has Strasburg done this year? Pretty well, thanks. The rightie is 15-5 so far, with a 2.85 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 145.1 innings pitched (leading the National League in Ks). Stras was named to this year’s All-Star team, and he has even had one home run as a batter. Now here’s the big dilemma: Because of his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Nationals’ General Manager, Mike Rizzo, has said since the beginning of the season that he is going to pull Strasburg after reaching a limit of 160 or so innings. This is what they did to Nationals’ pitcher Jordan Zimmermann last year after having had the same surgery in 2009. Zimmermann was pulled last August and no one seemed to notice. However, because the Nationals are in first place in the NL East and are more than likely going to the playoffs, this is, by far, the most heated debate going on in the DC area today (despite being an election year).
So is Mike Rizzo right in pulling Strasburg before the season is done? (The way it looks now, Strasburg probably only has 2 or 3 more starts left). This is where many ardent Nationals fans have their definite opinions. I, however, ardent a fan as I am, am very indecisive as to what the right thing to do is. Those who agree with Rizzo think that Strasburg is an investment that needs to be managed carefully (like that stock you may have bought in Facebook – don’t you feel stupid now?). If he pitches too much too soon after surgery, he could injure his shoulder or suffer from fatigue next year (Jordan Zimmermann, in this his first full season since his surgery, is starting to exhibit signs of exhaustion, and they will definitely need him during the playoffs). The Nationals have plenty of pitching depth in the minor leagues, and with other excellent starters like Gio Gonzalez (who is having a Cy Young-type of season), they should be fine in the playoffs.
On the other side of the debate are those (like my husband and my friend Bernie) who think it’s preposterous to sit the guy out during the playoffs, an event that DC fans have been waiting for since the team moved here from Montreal in 2005. If Strasburg is shut down and the Nationals don’t make it too far in the playoffs, the 2013 season will be a long one, and it will be full of high expectations. The Nationals will be under the type of pressure under which they’ve never been, and if they don’t make it to the playoffs in 2013, a lot of the bandwagon and casual fans will lose interest. It’s a “now or never” attitude that many Nats fans have – pitch him now or we’ll never ever be in the playoffs again!
Some people have even opined that because the world is going to end on December 12 according to the Mayan calendar, he should be allowed to pitch because he’s not going to be back next season anyway. I had to laugh at that one! Others have said that Strasburg should be shut down now and then brought back in October. That may work for a veteran pitcher, but remember, this guy is only 24 years old and is still learning how to pitch in the Majors. You don’t just sit there for a month and then be expected to perform at your best right away.
So what do I think? As a former Athletic Trainer, I understand Mike Rizzo’s argument. He has been crystal clear about Strasburg’s pitch count since Spring Training, and he has not backed down from his decision. He also gets credit for being up-front with the media and with fans, which is something that GMs are not normally known for doing. But then again, I am a very competitive person (ask my husband, who knows how cranky I get when I lose in “Seinfeld Scene-It”), and I of all people really really want the Nationals to go on to the World Series. Does one guy make a difference in a 25- or 40-man roster? I’d like to think not. Plus the Nationals have a very strong bullpen, so even if the starters can’t get it done, the bullpen can save the day. It’s not like I’m neither here nor there about it – that would mean I didn’t care. I’m just weighing the pros and cons and just can’t come up with a definite opinion. I bet Stephen Strasburg will be shut down, and us fans are just going to have to accept it. Here’s to the last six weeks of the regular season, and to the Nationals hanging in there (with or without Strasburg) and making it to the playoffs. The best of the season is yet to come!
About the Author
Written by Marien Hornyak
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico but have lived in the continental US for 22 years. I have a BS in Athletic Training and a MEd in Sport Management, where I did my thesis on "The History of Baseball Litigation." I am a wife, mother of 2, and self-proclaimed "Baseball Nerd." My favorite baseball players include Roberto Clemente, Kirby Puckett, and Iván Rodriguez.