Stephen Strasburg is starting for the Washington Nationals on Saturday. Two things will likely happen in the game. He will probably pitch well and he will certainly not pitch more than six innings.
In his previous start against the Orioles he not only was dominant, but hit a home run for good measure. But he was relieved after five innings as a precautionary measure after having discomfort in his arm. Two starts prior he had 13 strikeouts in six innings, but was lifted as the Nationals are protecting their prized arm from another Tommy John surgery.
So in each Strasburg start during the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, where the margin for error is smaller, the Nationals were not using their best pitcher.
The Nationals bullpen has, for the most part, been effective in Strasburg's starts. But if you know going into the game that he is on a tight leash, why not set up the game so Strasburg is pitching deeper into it?
It may be unorthodox, but on his scheduled games, have a reliever throw innings one and two. Maybe a left-hander or someone who pitches differently than Strasburg. Perhaps even a pitcher having his "throw day" could go an inning. Then at the start of the third inning, in would come Strasburg.
He could throw his 100 pitches, but now that would last until the seventh or eighth innings.
He warms up like it is a start and you make sure he never comes in before the start of the third.
Sure, it could be a crazy idea. But if my team has only one or two more turns at bat, I want my best pitcher on the mound keeping it close.
This concept first occurred to me when the Red Sox beat the Indians to clinch the 1999 division series.
Pedro Martinez was at his most unhittable level that year. But he left Game 1 with an injury. Nobody was sure if he was available for Game 5. The Red Sox started Bret Saberhagen and Derek Lowe who were both rocked.
Pedro Martinez entered the game in the fourth. It was already 8-8.
Pedro then threw six no-hit shutout innings. The Red Sox rallied one and in the ninth inning, Pedro Martinez was on the mound to prevent a Cleveland rally.
With their bullpen worn out and the starters totally ineffective, the Red Sox were able to have the best pitcher in the solar system pitching in the late innings. If Pedro had started and only lasted six innings, the Red Sox would have the crucial last third of the game in the hands of inferior pitchers.
Shouldn't more teams do that, especially when the team has a super talented pitcher on a short leash?
The Nationals still get to monitor the innings, but the best pitcher throws deeper into the game. If the reliever coughs up a run, there are seven innings to make up for it rather than one or two.
It would be the perfect compromise between counting pitches and trying to win a division title.
Which is why it is probably totally illogical and will never happen.
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