Did John Smoltz Expose Lies by Saying Stephen Strasburg Should Fake Injuries?
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We've spent a decent amount of space here discussing how the Washington Nationals and Stephen Strasburg are going to negotiate the innings limit that general manager Mike Rizzo insists will go into effect, presumably in September.
Two weeks ago, I tossed out five ideas that could help Strasburg extend his season and manipulate his schedule to make sure that he could still be pitching during the Nats' playoff run while still keeping himself under the 200-inning limit that Rizzo wants to shield his young star from.
Those included tactics like moving to a six-man starting rotation or limiting Strasburg to 75 pitches per outing. Maybe the Nationals could pitch him solely against NL East rivals or schedule him for Fridays, as if he were playing in college again.
But former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, now an announcer for TBS and MLB Network, had a different proposal for limiting Strasburg's innings that would also make him available when the Nationals are trying to clinch a division title or playoff spot and competing in the postseason. Just make an injury up, son.
Say what now? No, seriously—this is what Smoltz said on ESPN Radio (via DC Sports Bog).
“Honestly, I know this is gonna sound . . . well, I’m a little bit different anyways,” Smoltz told Scott Van Pelt. “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."
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Smoltz is definitely different, in that he's being blatantly honest about how Strasburg and the Nationals are probably going to manipulate his schedule so that he can pitch in September.
He's just the first guy who just came right out and said it. And by doing so, perhaps he also exposed what's probably a relatively common routine in baseball.
Manager: Hey, pitcher—how do you feel today?
Pitcher: I feel great. I feel strong.
Manager: Are you sure?
Pitcher: Yeah, absolutely. My last bullpen went great. Was throwing free and easy.
General manager: Free and easy? Really? You didn't feel a pinch in your shoulder?
Pitcher: What? No, I told you—I feel great.
General manager: No, you don't look so good.
Manager: Yeah, you look tired. Look at how long it's taking you to get dressed. Are you OK?
Pitcher: What are you talking about? I just haven't put my shoes on yet because I'm sitting here—
General manager: No, you have a tired arm. Listen to me. Tired arm.
Pitcher: But I'm not—
Manager: Tired arm. You're going on the DL.
Pitcher: OK, but...can I still play golf?
The only difference with Smoltz's scenario is that he suggests Strasburg come up with a nagging problem that causes him to miss a start here and there. The painful blister. The dreaded hangnail. Maybe he can say he slept on his eye wrong, as Chris Brown supposedly once told Sparky Anderson.
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It's not like Smoltz is some Jim Bouton-esque whistle blower here, revealing deep, dark secrets from the clubhouse. But he did say what most everyone following this situation has been thinking.
Smoltz didn't suggest that he or any of his teammates ever did such a thing. However, he sure seemed confident that it was something he would do if his team threatened to impose an innings limit on him.
Additionally, skipping a start here and there would be much easier to justify to the players than shutting him down in September when the team is fighting for a playoff spot.
Smoltz went on to suggest something that I mentioned when discussing the possible argument to come over shutting Strasburg down. Rizzo began the season with the plan and apparently has every intention of sticking with it. But deep down, he probably didn't think the Nats would jump ahead of schedule and contend for the NL East this year.
So if Strasburg suddenly comes down with a chipped fingernail, stiff back or the aforementioned blister, we can all wink at each other with the knowledge of what's really going on. Yep—tired arm. We'll see you in September, sir.
Strasburg just has to make sure to fake a relatively harmless injury. Don't say forearm tightness or bicep soreness. That will be too real and scare the hell out of everyone.
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