On The Verge Of Making The Playoffs, Washington Nationals Bench Their Star Pitcher

The Washington Nationals have been having a phenomenal season thanks in no small part to the work of their pitching ace Stephen Strasburg, the young pitcher who returned this season after Tommy John surgery to lead the team to what appears the first playoff appearance by a team from the nation’s capital since 1933. Strasburg has been on a strict pitch count ever since returning from surgery, though, and the Nationals have announced that he is now benched for the rest of the season:

Washington (CNN) – The Washington Nationals — the upstarts battling for a playoff spot — ended the season of its star pitcher to keep him healthy for next year.

Stephen Strasburg made his last appearance of the 2012 season Friday, team spokesman John Dever confirmed to CNN.

Debate has raged in baseball over the rare move, particularly because the National League-East leading Nationals appear headed to a division title and a post-season berth.

The 24-year-old right-hander returned to the mound this season after “Tommy John” surgery on his right elbow.

The Nationals said they would limit him to roughly 160 innings for the year to keep him from reinjuring his pitching arm.

Manager Davey Johnson made good on the promise after Strasburg’s rough outing Friday night against the Miami Marlins.

There is some wisdom in this. Strasburg ended up requiring Tommy John surgery, which most pitchers who have gotten it don’t get until well into their careers, after only one season in the Major Leagues and at the very young age of 23. Partly, this was because of a pitching style that twists his elbow in seemingly impossible directions at times. When he came back from surgery, there were some who wondered if he’d ever be the same as he was when he first burst on the scene by throwing multiple innings of 90+ mph fastballs, but he’s done as well this season as he did before the surgery. The team has invested a ton of money in this kid, and they want to make sure he’s around for years to come.

Still, this is no ordinary season for the Nationals. They vaulted to the top of the National League East fairly early, and have stayed there notwithstanding injuries and runs at them made by more than one team in the division. At this point it’s pretty much assured that they’re going to be in the playoffs, but that’s only half the battle. If they want to make it all the way to the end, they have to win eleven more games in October, and it seems odd that they’d be so emphatic about benching the most reliable member of their pitching staff. One has to wonder whether, if the Nationals make it deep into the playoffs and there are crucial games on the line, they might not pull Strasburg out of the bullpen and at least bring him in for long relief or something. If they don’t and they lose, there are going to be a lot of people wondering if they made the wrong decision in a year of tremendous opportunity.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter in the end. If the Nationals make the World Series, they’ll just end up losing to the Yankees anyway.

Photo via CNN

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. “If the Nationals make the World Series, they’ll just end up losing to the Yankees anyway.”

    Well, if the Yankees can fend off the Os and, also, best the Rangers in the playoffs…

  2. Ernieyeball says:

    …to lead to the team to what appears the first playoff appearance by a team from the nation’s capital since 1933.

    Wouldn’t this be their first post season appearance?
    There were no League Division Playoffs in 1933 because their were no League Divisions.
    I believe 1 game playoffs occurred when two teams in the same League had identical W-L at the end of the regular season. Apparently these contests are NOT Post Season.

    From Wiki P:
    In the Majors, the singular term “playoff” is reserved for the rare situation in which two teams find themselves tied at the end of the regular season and are forced to have a playoff game (or games) to determine which team will advance to the postseason. (my bold) Thus, in the Majors, a “playoff” is actually part of the regular season and thus can be called a “Pennant playoff”.

  3. @Steven L. Taylor:

    I remain confident

  4. @Ernieyeball:

    Fair point. Perhaps “Post-Season” is more appropriate since, even in 1933, the World Series was considered the “Post-Season”

  5. Ernieyeball says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I never know if you’all want yer prose “reviewed” or not.

    You wrote:
    “…to lead to the team to what appears the first playoff appearance by a team from the nation’s capital since 1933.”

    I think you meant:
    “…to lead the team to what appears to be the first playoff appearance by a team from the nation’s capital since 1933.”

    (I would also try to avoid using “appear” and “appearance” in the same sentence.)

  6. @Ernieyeball:

    Did I hire you as my copy editor?

  7. Ernieyeball says:

    @Doug Mataconis: No. What does it pay?

  8. superdestroyer says:

    The shut down has been planned since the beginning of the season. The Nationals did the same thing last year with Jordan Zimmerman and he has been a very good pticher this year. The investment in a pitcher is for more than more year and the Nationals are avoiding the get rich quick mentality.

    It would be the Yankee who would use up a pitcher while trying to win in the short run.

  9. stonetools says:

    The Orioles and Nats for a Potomac World Series.

    May the Yankees freeze in the deepest circles of hell!!!!

  10. Hal 10000 says:

    The thing is: pitchers get hurt. You can take all the precautions in the world and pitchers will still get hurt. You can limit their pitches, their innings, their side sessions. You can sacrifice goats. And there is still a good chance that a pitcher is going to end up hurt. The Nationals have a chance to do something extraordinary this season. Should that matter more than decreasing the chance fo Strasburg getting hurt by something like 10%?

    That being said, they have a 6.5 game lead and a good pitching staff. They could probably skip the occasional start or rest him until the playoffs. But shutting him down seems a bit extreme.

  11. An Interested Party says:

    I remain confident

    Of course, the Yankees haven’t even been to the World Series since 2009, and it was 2003 before that…a bloated payroll can only get you so far…still, keep hope alive I suppose…

  12. @Hal 10000:

    Exactly. It is mentalities like the one motivating this decision that explain why the number of complete games and 20 game winners (not to mention 25 game or more winners) is down from where it was int the 70s and 80s

  13. superdestroyer says:

    @Hal 10000:

    However, teams had take reasonable measures to limit the chance of an injury. A major league reason is much longer than either a minor league season or a college season. The leap in innings pitched by young pitcher moving up to the majors has been correlated with increased risk of injury. that is why teams put young pitchers on a schedule of slowing increasing the innings each season.

  14. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    They have to invest big bucks in a lot of kids that never pan out these days. The keepers? Being few and far between, they must be taken care of.

    Looked at it, and the kid wasn’t just a little off last time out. Something is wrong.