Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has remained steadfast all season long. He will not do anything to put ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg in harm's way -- even if that means the 23-year-old gets shut down well before the end of the 2012 campaign.
Strasburg made his 15th start of the year in Colorado on Monday night. His numbers are predictably brilliant (9-2, 2.60 ERA, 118 strikeouts, 23 walks). He is now up to 90 innings pitched with a limit believed to be somewhere in the 160-to-170 range -- though Rizzo has never stated publicly how the organization will determine exactly when Strasburg has had enough. Not all innings pitched or pitches thrown are equally stressful, after all.
But while the Nats are unlikely to push Strasburg too far -- until now he had never thrown more than 68 innings at the big league level in one season, and that ended with Tommy John surgery -- there are ways to extend his season well into a pennant race.
The most obvious solution is to start Strasburg fifth after the All-Star break. His first half is scheduled to finish July 6 at home against Colorado. He wouldn't pitch again until July 17. At an average of six innings a pop, that would give Strasburg until Sept. 15 until he hit about 170 innings pitched. He would then miss just the last two starts of the season.
No telling how far ahead -- or behind -- Washington will be at that point. But given the way the first-place Nats have pitched this season, they would have to feel pretty confident they could make it through the final two weeks of the season without him and still have a good shot to hold on to a lead.
But there's really no way to push Strasburg through to the playoffs barring skipping him for two or three weeks in August -- there are enough off days to do so -- and extending any innings cap to 180 or so. Rizzo has said repeatedly the team won't play games with Strasburg's routine. In that case, a fifth start after the All-Star break is the most reasonable way to get the most out of Strasburg.
- Brian McNally