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