The Washington Times-Herald

October 12, 2012

Nationals can't blame it on one guy if they lose

Glade's Games

By Dennis Glade
Washington Times Herald

WASHINGTON — Baseball is about the entire team, not one player unless you are the Washington Nationals.

After finishing with a Major League best 98 wins in the regular season many felt the Nationals were the best team in baseball.

The decision to shut down ace starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg in September, following through on the plan that was revealed in spring training to keep Strasburg on a 160 innings limit for the season was met with an abundance of criticism, considering the surprising season the young Nationals experience.

The baseball world came down hard on Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson for the decision to sideline their 24-year-old ace, but the decision won’t be the reason the Nationals may be eliminated by the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals in tonight’s gave five.

Strasburg burst on the scene in 2010, earning a 5-3 record, while striking out 92 batters in 68 innings and posting 2.91 ERA. He was then forced to have Tommy John surgery, which is the main reason Rizzo and Johnson instrumented 2012’s innings limit. Strasburg threw only 21 innings in 2011, therefore Washington was worried about overexerting his powerful right shoulder.

As the Nationals struggled by being outscored 20-4 by the Cardinals in games two and three, the talk is still about how things would be different with Strasburg. Really?

Would Strasburg have saved Jordan Zimmerman and Edwin Jackson from getting shelled to the tune of 15 hits and nine earned runs in eight innings pitched. Sure, the Nationals would be more confident knowing they would have their ace possibly pitching twice in a five-game series.

Increasing a young pitchers innings from 24 to 159 is a huge jump, no matter what anyone will tell you. The fact is, the Nationals aren’t scoring and that is the reason they are close to elimination in the division series. Washington was 79-55 in games not started by Strasburg. He only pitches every fifth day.

Yes, when did pitch he was dominant this season. The Nationals ace had a 15-6 record and a 3.16 ERA while striking out 197 batters 159 1/3 innings allowing just 136 hits. In his last three starts, Strasburg allowed 10 earned runs in 17 innings and allowing 17 hits. He appeared to be tiring, because well, he had never been here before in terms of this kind of pressure on his right shoulder.

Maybe the Nationals should have shut him down for the last three weeks of September and brought him back for the playoffs. Nobody knows how Strasburg’s arm would deal with that time off. The fact is, even with Strasburg the Nationals could have been in the same predicament. Washington won game one, presumably they could have done that with Strasburg pitching. They still could have lost the next three and then would have had to wait until game five to see their ace again.

Washington is going up against a battle tested Cardinals team that rode a wave of momentum last season to a World Series. The Nationals season isn’t over, but simply having Strasburg wouldn’t have made the difference. Baseball, after all is team game.