One of the hottest topics in sports right now is the impending shutdown of pitcher Stephen Strasburg by the first place Washington Nationals. Pundits, rival managers and players all join the chorus along with fans flooding call in lines on sport talk radio. The overwhelming sentiment is the Nats GM Mike Rizzo is insane to proceed with his plans to sit Strasburg after 180 innings of work. As a Washington baseball fan I support Rizzo’s decision 100%. Despite the fact that DC is on the cusp of playing October baseball for the first time since 1933 and that Strasburg is a big part of that, sitting him down is the right idea.
Stephen Strasburg is playing in his first full season as a big leaguer after spending a year rehabbing from “Tommy John” surgery, a now common procedure where a tendon from the player’s leg is used to replace a damaged elbow ligament. Strasburg, the number one pick in the draft in 2009 blew out his elbow after a handful of starts in 2010. Before the injury he had been filling ballparks at home and on the road as people flocked to see the young man who was being called a once in a generation pitcher. In his major league debut at Nationals Park in June of that year he struck out fourteen batters in seven innings of work and dazzled with a 100+ mph fastball. When he returned in September of 2011 he had dropped a few miles off his fastball but still had the pinpoint control that confounded batters. This season he leads all of MLB in strikeouts, has a 15-5 record and as a bonus has a .279 batting average along with a .443 slugging average. His presence in the rotation will be missed, even more so if the Nats make it to the post season. The Nationals and Mike Rizzo have long-range plans and Strasburg is the centerpiece. They fear that overworking him now will leave him less of an asset in the future. There is no scientific evidence to support this but there is plenty on anecdotal evidence to draw from. The Cubs overworked two of the brightest pitching stars in years and neither ever lived up to his potential. Mark Pryor is long gone from baseball and Kerry Wood went from flame throwing starter to set up man out of the bullpen who retired this season.
As a long suffering Washington baseball fan, I am torn. Since baseball’s return to DC in 2005 the franchise has eaten a lot of dirt. They were nearly ignored by the local media and abused by the National League in general. Philadelphia fans found a way to be even more obnoxious than usual when the Phillies came to town. Now the shoe is on the other foot and those years of 100 + losses were worth the wait. What will happen though when the Nationals make their first foray into post season ball without one of their biggest guns? Hopefully the rest of the excellent pitching staff can pick up the slack but even more importantly this is just the beginning of playing in October. And that is the point of shutting down Strasburg, not only will he make 2012 a memorable season, he’ll take the mound for many October starts for years to come.
As a teenager, I saw Frank Howard of the Senators blast a homerun at RFK Stadium that was a moon shot. He was about the only bright spot in an otherwise mediocre season. A couple of years later the Senators moved to Texas and became the Rangers. I, like many other DC baseball fans, had an ache that never went away until 2005 when the Expos moved from Montreal to become the Nationals. I felt bad for all those Expo fans who’d lost their team but I couldn’t have been more joyous the first time I sat down at old RFK to watch my new home team. For the next few years the Nats were about as bad as a team could get but behind the scenes the front office was rebuilding the decimated farm system and using those 100 loss seasons to draft some of the best talent the game has seen in years. Now they are poised to ascend to the top of the mountain and by using caution with one of their most important players, will be there for years to come.
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