When asked about being shut down at some point during the second half of the season, Stephen Strasburg responded as though his answer was already scripted. "I have no clue how many innings I'm going to throw this year," he said. "I've answered that question multiple times, and nobody's said anything to me. I feel great right now."
The Nationals ace right-hander continues to hear the question because he's in the center of what could potentially be a real dilemma for the team. If the Nationals are still in the World Series hunt in September, the question is if they will actually execute their plan to shut down their All-Star pitcher a month before the season's over.
Conventional wisdom in the medical profession says a pitcher coming off of Tommy John surgery shouldn't pitch more than 160 innings in any given season. Last year, Strasburg's teammate Jordan Zimmerman, was coming back from Tommy John surgery and had the plug pulled on him on Aug. 28, after he reached 161 1/3 innings.
But this year, the Nationals hit the All-Star break with a 49-34 record and a four-game lead in the NL East. Meanwhile, Strasburg has pitched 100 innings, and threw a scoreless inning in Tuesday's All-Star game. Keep in mind, not since 1933 has a major league baseball team in D.C. qualified for the post-season.
The Nationals' plan seemed to have real viability during spring training when most baseball analysts felt the team might compete for the new second wild card spot. But now that this team might have a shot at giving Washington a World Series championship, fans and experts alike are starting to have second thoughts.
So far, the Nationals aren't budging. General Manager Mike Rizzo feels that this team is ready to be a contender for many years to come, so there's no point in putting a great talent like Strasburg at risk by having him throw more innings than originally planned.
The Nationals have had the best rotation in the majors for most of the season. All-Star Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler all have ERAs under 4.00. So, it's not as though the team would fall apart without Strasburg. The team has been winning despite injuries. Outfielders Jayson Werth and Michael Morse, closer Drew Storen, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman have spent time on the disabled list. Catcher Wilson Ramos is out for the season.
"We've weathered a pretty rough storm," manager Davey Johnson said. "I'm much more comfortable and much more relaxed, believe it or not, as we start the second half."