The exact nature of the Washington Nationals’ ‘Strasburg Plan’ has been an interesting subplot throughout their excellent season. Having made it very clear for the past 6 months that their ace would be on some sort of innings or pitch count restriction so soon after Tommy John surgery, it now appears that the Nationals plan to make do without Strasburg in October. The original innings cap for Strasburg was rumoured to be around the 160 mark, a figure that was revised up to 180 in stories making the rounds last week. Now an mlb.com article is claiming that not only is the 180 innings figure “not set in stone”, but that when / if the Nationals make the playoffs, Strasburg will play no part in an attempt to manage his long-term health.
The team’s attempt to keep Strasburg healthy is admirable, as is the apparent news that he will not on a fixed inning count which would ignore pitch counts and the stress levels of the innings he does pitch, however shutting down arguably their most important player during what would be the franchise’s first ever playoff appearance looks the Nationals cutting off their nose to spite their face.
Whatever the team’s plan to manage Strasburg’s workload, their 4.5 game division lead along with the best record in baseball gives them a fair amount of leeway in how they handle the situation. There is a obviously a certain amount of conjecture involved here as we don’t know either how accurate or concrete this plan is. However, having your best player miss the playoffs out of choice would appear to be a pretty misguided strategy.
By all means have Strasburg miss a few starts over the rest of the regular season, send him to Triple-A to make occasional appearances to stay sharp or even shut him down completely. Ultimately, do whatever it takes to have him available for October. The vagaries of baseball mean this could be the Nationals only chance for the next few years to make a run in the playoffs, to say nothing of the very real chance that, however carefully he is handled, Strasburg could blow up on Opening Day 2013 or even in Spring Training. To go into the playoffs without Strasburg and have, for example, Ross Detwiler making starts instead would be a significant blow to the Nats’ chances and a real opportunity missed. Fortunately the team still have around six weeks toburforrasmulate a plan to keep Strasburg on the field come October.