Stephen Strasburg's pitching dominance is of paramount importance to the Washington Nationals all the time, but September is when baseball players earn their money.
At this rate, Strasburg won't be in the Nationals rotation when baseball's biggest games roll around, since Washington's front office placed a 160-inning limit on the flamethrower before this season even began. The Nationals' unanticipated success in 2012 now has fans clamoring for Strasburg's limit to be lifted.
This is his first season following Tommy John surgery, and the Nationals don't want to risk the long-term potential of their prized arm. That's understandable. We've seen too many high-profile pitchers have years shaved off their careers due to injury, but Washington's improbable run to the top of the NL East strikes an interesting debate.
With Strasburg currently sitting at 105 innings, you can expect baseball analysts across the country to weigh in over the coming weeks.
TBS' John Smoltz didn't waste any time. Reporter Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post included snippets from an ESPN Radio interview with Scott Van Pelt (listen here), where Smoltz tells Strasburg to do the unthinkable:
Honestly, I know this is gonna sound . . . well, I’m a little bit different anyways. I’d create my own little gap. I’d have a blister one day, maybe a hangnail the next start. You know, I think there’s ways to do it. And I get it—their statement is every game counts. Well, it does, but it doesn’t count as much as in September.
You’re in your own division, you can either lengthen your gap or close the gap. And I just think that’s gonna be hard to explain to 23, 24 other players, why this guy is going to [not pitch].
It's hard to say "I see his point," but I do. It goes against every unwritten rule and the integrity of the game, but it's not difficult to understand from Smoltz's perspective.
The idea of Strasburg missing out on the NL pennant race is insanity. He's arguably the best pitcher in the league this season. How can we claim a true champion if he doesn't take part in the season's waning months?
We can't, but that doesn't make Smoltz's approach right. There are certainly ways around it. Steinberg mentions earlier in his report that Nationals management could shuffle the rotation or give Strasburg extended rest, but no one would ever publicly acknowledge the idea of embellishing an injury.
What should the Nationals do?
It just doesn't fly in sports. The idea will, and should, be ridiculed. It goes against everything sports stand for, and what if Strasburg really does get hurt? How would he feel after that? Causing long-term structural damage isn't worth one year's postseason hunt, as tempting as it may seem.
Strasburg is probably looking at somewhere between seven to nine more starts before he reaches his limit. Maybe he will heed Smoltz's advice and exaggerate an injurious circumstance, but it's just a bad idea.
It would seem sensible at the time because Strasburg would be out there mowing opposing batters down, but the risk is too high.
Faking an injury to risk a real injury is asinine, and Smoltz's approach should be dismissed in the end. It compromises the integrity of the game, and it doesn't send a good message. Strasburg would be pulling the wool over his management's eyes, and that isn't the clubhouse tone he needs to set as an emerging Nationals leader.
No one wants to see Strasburg shut down, but seeing another major surgery would be worse. It's an unfortunate situation, but one everyone is probably going to have to live with.