The Nationals aren’t naïve. They knew shutting down Stephen Strasburg early would bring out critics of the plan and plenty of national attention.
“Stephen Strasburg, he’s one of the great major league pitchers there are,” general manager Mike Rizzo said on Saturday. “He’s attracted a lot of attention since the day we drafted him.”
But did the Nats really expect this? The number of people inside and outside the game weighing in on the organization’s decision – and the number of media outlets willing to provide a platform for those opinions – became numbing over the past two months. It’s a brave new world.
“The media hype on this thing has been unbelievable,” manager Davey Johnson said. “I feel it’s hard for him, as it would by anybody, to get mentally totally committed in a ballgame.”
Johnson said the attention has even worn on him. The last straw for him was a video “letter” posted on MLB.com and read on MLB Network by former All-Star pitcher Jim Kaat, who pitched in the 1965 World Series as a young man and not again until 1982.
It was a direct plea, from one pitcher to another, for Strasburg to make his own decision. Not Rizzo or Johnson or agent Scott Boras or anyone else – though it seems to miss the point that Strasburg has no power in this situation at all. He’s under contract for several more years. The organization has decided its course and he can only follow.
“He’s known all along the situation. But with the media attention, I see it’s harder for him to concentrate on the job at hand,” Johnson said. “And I’m sure he’s physically a little tired. But this kind of distraction has really kind of exacerbated the situation to the point where I don’t think it’s in his best interest to go get one more start.”
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