There will be no shutdown this season, no distracting drama. Nationals ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg will pitch for as long as he remains healthy. But while Strasburg told ESPN on Monday that he looked forward to a year free of limits don't take that to mean the reigns have been loosened completely.
In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Strasburg managed 1591Ú3 innings with a 3.16 ERA. Other than a clear fade in two of his final three starts -- possibly fatigue setting in thanks to the mental strain of a shutdown he wanted no part of -- Strasburg gave Washington exactly what it needed. But the plan called for his season to end at about 160 innings no matter what and that's exactly what happened. The Nats went into the playoffs without Strasburg and whether that was the correct decision will be debated for years.
Detroit ace Justin Verlander is the comparison used most often when discussing Strasburg's ceiling. But expecting even 224 innings -- Verlander's lowest total over the last four seasons -- is likely foolish. Strasburg made 28 starts and his innings were by far a career high.
Even 200 innings in 2013 will be a 25 percent jump. And given its status as a World Series contender, Washington must think beyond that number in case of a long postseason run. That could mean as many as six extra starts and 30 to 40 more innings. Verlander threw 281Ú3 playoff innings for the Tigers, who made it to the World Series last year. But Detroit played just 13 extra games because of sweeps in the ALCS and World Series. That could mean getting creative with Strasburg again -- limiting his innings, giving him extra days off or even skipping a start or two.
"I still think [Strasburg is] gonna be on a pitch limit. I still think he very possibly could get shut down," MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds said. "It may not be at the end of the year, maybe just during the season. I don't think they're just going to say 'Hey, we guided you through one year, go throw.' He's always gonna be a guy they keep real close to the vest."
- Brian McNally