Johnson cites mental fatigue by the young ace
Nationals manager Davey Johnson knew it from almost the first pitch of Friday night's game against the Miami Marlins. Ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the subject of so much debate this summer about his impending early shutdown, was finally fried.
Strasburg allowed five earned runs in just three innings, the shortest outing of his career, and on Saturday the team announced he would not make his scheduled final start Wednesday against the New York Mets. His season, already set to be cut short, was over effective immediately.
"I made this call," Johnson said. "My job is to do what I think's best for the player, and this is what's best."
It was one made in agreement with pitching coach Steve McCatty, who also sensed a lack of focus from Strasburg even during his warmup session in the bullpen, and general manager Mike Rizzo, who put the plan in place before spring training. In his first full season after reconstructive elbow surgery, Strasburg would not go the distance. That did not change even when it became clear Washington, still comfortably in first place in the National League East, was on target to reach the postseason.
"After [Friday's] start, we just figured that mentally and physically Stephen looked like he was fatigued," Rizzo said. "We decided what's the difference of 1591Ú3 innings or 163 or 164 or 1651Ú3 innings? We said let's pull the plug today and move on with the season and try and finish the season off positive."
That certainly did not change after a crescendo of criticism from all over the country -- columnists, ex-players, current players, other baseball executives -- that ripped the organization for shutting down its best pitcher and harming its own chances to win a title. None of it changed Rizzo's mind. The team has long said it would follow the same plan put in place last season for Jordan Zimmermann, then in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery. His season ended last August after 1611/3.
"Even with all the so-called experts commenting on how to use [Strasburg], how to get him through October, how to do this, how to do that," Johnson said. "I have a little bit of experience in how to handle a pitching staff. And none of those scenarios fit. I mean, if they did I would've pursued them."
For his part, Strasburg still denies any lingering mental fatigue from the debate. He finishes with a 15-6 record and a 3.16 ERA. In 1591Ú3 innings -- a career high -- he struck out 197 batters and walked just 48. Opponents hit .230 against Strasburg in 28 starts. Only Detroit's Max Scherzer has more strikeouts per nine innings than Strasburg's 11.13. Only six pitchers have a better strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.10). But those stats are all final now. He won't get to add to them.
"I thought I had another start. It was pretty shocking," Strasburg said. "Honestly, I'm not too happy about it. I want to keep pitching out there. But as of right now, I think I've got some world renowned doctors, one of them Dr. [Lewis] Yocum, he resurrected my career. I've got to listen to him and I've got to trust him."