Stephen Strasburg was never happy with the plan that would have his season end well before his teammates finally pack their own bags for winter. He was even less enthused when it became clear that the Nationals were a legitimate contender to reach the postseason. But the plan to shut down Strasburg in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery became official on Saturday morning when manager Davey Johnson informed him that he would not make his final scheduled start against the New York Mets on Wednesday. And there was nothing Strasburg could do or say to stop it.
“I don’t know if I’m ever going to accept it, to be honest with you. It’s something that I’m not happy about at all. That’s not why I play the game,” Strasburg said after his team’s 7-6 comeback win over the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park on Saturday. “I play the game to, obviously, be a good teammate and to win. You don’t grow up dreaming of playing in the big leagues to get shut down when the games start to matter. It’s going to be a tough one to swallow. But like I said, all I can do is be the best teammate possible to these guys. I think everybody overlooks all the other great contributions that we’ve had this year.”
There is small comfort in that for Strasburg. The rotation he leaves behind still features two of the best pitchers in the game this season in Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann. And both Ross Detwiler and Edwin Jackson have produced fine years as well. It was never just about Strasburg and his absence doesn’t end Washington’s hopes for a title. The offense, finally healthy, has come alive, too, in the second half of the season.
But for a while now he’s been bothered by the relentless criticism from some current and former players, executives and media members of the team’s plan for him and the implication that he should somehow prevent it. Johnson said after Friday’s ugly three-inning start against the Marlins that Strasburg was having trouble sleeping at night and felt like he was letting his teammates down. The attention the issue received became too much for everyone.
“It bothered me a lot longer than that,” Strasburg said. “But you know what, when everybody talks about it and that’s all that you hear, it’s hard not to let it bother you. I was doing everything in my power the whole year to try to help this team win some games, and I felt like for the most part I accomplished that.”
Strasburg finishes 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA. In 159 1/3 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). For much of the season he simply hoped everything would just magically work out and that he’d be on the mound for his team when the games matter the most.
“I think the easiest way of dealing with it is that I just looked the other way. I didn’t really worry about it,” Strasburg said. “I was always thinking things were going to change, there was going to be something that would change and I would get the opportunity. But this decision they made well before the start of the year. I play for the Washington Nationals. I play to help this team win games. And that’s the bottom line. I’m not the one making the calls.”
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