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“I think two starts. Unless I let him pitch 10 the next one out, which I’m not going to. I think his last start will be on the 12th,” Johnson said.
Rizzo wasn’t quite as specific.
“It depends on the same thing it’s always depended on. When we feel that he’s had enough in and around that area of innings, and we take into account all the things we’ve talked about taking into account, stressful innings, pitches, and that type of thing, then we’ll make that decision and shut him down.”
According to Strasburg, he hasn’t been talking with management about the subject as much as one might think. He is keeping his approach day-by-day, trying to block everything out. But with the end of his season apparently near, the Nats’ ace did acknowledge something will have to happen soon.
“I’m just focused on the next start. That’s all I can really focus on right now. But we’re going to have to have a sit down and talk here soon,” he said.
It appears what has maybe been delayed by those in D.C. and in the organization, what has been fixated on in the national media, is now finally about to come to its end. It of course isn’t an easy decision, and with the competitive nature between the two, it is natural for Strasburg to have his reservations about the move.
Rizzo is confident, however, that two sides will come to an understanding that whatever happens in the future will fall on his shoulders.
“I don’t think he’s going to fight me on it, I think he’s going to be unhappy about it, I know he’ll be unhappy about it. He is an ultimate competitor, but we’ve taken that out of his hands,” he said.
“This is a developmental decision and it ultimately falls on the doorstep of the general manager and we’ve made it. We’ve made it five months ago and we’re going to stick to it.”
Rizzo is aware of the national attention the subject has received, but he is firm in his beliefs and has all the information he needs to back it up.
“Stephen Strasburg is one of the most popular players in baseball and it is a good conversational piece. It is a debatable subject, but most of the people who have weighed in on this know about ten percent of the information that we know, that we’ve made our opinion and based it on.”
Rizzo was asked if Jordan Zimmermann, a year ahead of Strasburg in the recovery from Tommy John, presents a good example of the plan working. The Nats general manager expanded that notion to include other young arms such as Ross Detwiler and Lucas Giolito, and believes nothing should change that stance.
“Just because we’re in a different position in the standings, we’re not going to forego my philosophy of player development and keeping pitchers healthy and we’ve been consistent with it throughout.”
Nobody believes the Nationals are as good a team without Strasburg, he is one of the best pitchers in the league and the staff’s true ace. But Rizzo is at peace with their talent moving forward this season, with or without the former number one pick.
“I think we’ve got four of the top pitchers in the National League, I think all of them can go out there and win you a game under duress in a playoff atmosphere. I think that they’re ultra-talented and they’re stuff-guys and I think they’re going to be tough to deal with for any team that we play against.”
Taking Strasburg’s place in the rotation will be John Lannan, a veteran who held a 3.71 ERA last season through 184.2 innings in 2011. You could certainly have worse backup plans than that.
“It was part of our plan at the beginning was to be very deep at starting pitcher. It was one of the reasons why we signed Edwin Jackson when people thought we didn’t need him,” he said.
“It was one of the reasons why people thought we were looking to trade John Lannan when, unless we got blown away by a good deal we knew that John Lannan was going to pitch important innings for us sometime this year and the time is about ready for him to get here.”
If the Nationals fail to win the World Series, it could be shutting down Strasburg that people point to as the difference. Rizzo knows that, the Nationals know that. But Johnson has won a World Series before and thinks his team has the depth and character to battle through any type of situation.
“We’ve faced adversity all year long. We didn’t have our cleanup hitter, we didn’t have our closer. We lost our starting catcher, we lost Jayson Werth for two months,” he said.