The Washington Nationals face a difficult dilemma with their best pitcher, Stephen Strasburg. The big righthander will turn 24 later this week and his comeback season after Tommy John surgery has been very successful.Thus far, Strasburg is 10-4 with a 2.66 ERA and an impressive 1.10 WHIP. The former top overall draft pick has 135 strikeouts and only 29 walks this season.
Strasburg has already thrown 105 innings this season, but is facing a team imposed limit of 160 innings pitched before they shut him down for the rest of the season so as not to risk further injury to his arm.
But the Nationals have surprised everybody thus far this season and sit in first place in the NL East. In fact, Washington has the best record in the National League thus far at 51-36 and one of the biggest reasons is the club’s starting pitching.
Are the Nats really going to shut down Strasburg in late August or early September if they are in the thick of a pennant race? If Washington has a chance to earn its first NL crown or even its first postseason berth since moving from Montreal, would they really not allow Strasburg to pitch when things really heat up late in the season?
And what if they do make the postseason? Then what? Does Strasburg rejoin the club for the NLDS, the NLCS or World Series?
Like most top athletes, Strasburg is a competitor and wants the ball when the season is on the line. “They’re going to have to rip the ball out of my hands,” Strasburg told MLB Network Radio recently.
The big question becomes how firm is the 160 inning limit and does pitching more than that this season really jeopardize Strasburg’s long-term future? If indeed there is a significant risk, then shutting down their ace makes sense. But otherwise, it seems to be more logical for manager Davey Johnson to be flexible with the innings limit and to give Strasburg a chance to help the Nationals win their first pennant and maybe even more.
It’s a tough call. But pulling Strasburg out of competition just when the going gets tough may be more painful to the Nationals ace then shutting him down.