If the Washington Nationals want proof about what can go wrong by overworking an ace coming off an injury, look no further than the division-rival New York Mets.
While the Nationals are contemplating the right time to shut down Stephen Strasburg, New York Mets left-hander Johan Santana is not expected to pitch again this season after being put on the DL for lower back inflammation.
Santana's season has not been the same since he threw a career-high 134 pitches during his no-hitter -- the first in franchise history.
Santana is 3-7 with a 8.27 ERA in 10 starts since June 1.
At the time, manager Terry Collins struggled with his decision to leave in his ace, who missed all of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
"I went against just about everything I stand for," Collins told reporters after Santana's no-hitter. "In my heart, I was very, very excited for Johan and very, very excited for everybody. But I kind of had felt that I had made the wrong move."
The Mets pushed Santana's next start back two days, a move that didn't seem to pan out. The lefty allowed six earned runs in five innings in his first game back and hasn't been the same since.
Sure, these events may not be related. The Mets were cautious of Santana's shoulder, and he went on the DL for a back injury. New York wanted to limit the 33-year-old's starts this season anyway. By next year, Santana could revert to his Cy Young form, and no one would remember his atrocious end to the 2012 season.
But when a manager has an inclination that something could go wrong by overworking his pitcher, then that pitcher has the worst stretch of his career before being shut down because of an injury, things don't look good.
While Strasburg's scenario is different from Santana's, both bring to the forefront the fragility of pitchers and the toll it takes on the body to compete at the highest level.
No one will know whether shutting down Strasburg is the right move.
But would Collins have left Santana in if he could do it all over again?
- Jeffrey Tomik