With the Washington Nationals coming into the weekend with the best record in baseball at 73-45 and a four-game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, all major league eyes are fixated on the team's plan to shut down Stephen Strasburg.
Strasburg was once again fantastic Thursday night, allowing just two earned runs and striking out seven as the Nationals took down the Giants, 6-4, in San Francisco.
Strasburg's performance pushed his record to 14-5 on the season, as he's been the undoubted ace of baseball's best pitching staff all season. But after going six innings against the Giants, Strasburg sits at 139.1 innings pitched so far this season.
That puts him less than 21 innings away from the assumed 160-innings limit, placing Washington in a precarious position going forward.
The innings-limit initiative is the brain child of Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. It was put in place in spring training to help aid Strasburg in his recovery from Tommy John surgery two years ago.
But with Washington unexpectedly ruling the baseball world this season, many have called for the team to shelve its innings limit and go all-in this year with Strasburg leading the way.
Others understood the Nationals sacrificing the present for the future of their young phenom.
Which analysts had some of the best opinions from across the web? Follow along as we take a look.
When asked about Strasburg on ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning, former major league pitching coach Leo Mazzone did not shy away from giving a strong opinion.
Now a color commentator for Fox, Mazzone, who presided over the Atlanta Braves pitching staff during its legendary run in the 1990s, called the Nationals' plan "pathetic" and said Strasburg should threaten to leave Washington if sat down.
Via The Washington Post:
I think it’s absolutely pathetic, to be honest with you. If I’m Strasburg, here’s what I’m saying, I’m saying you take the ball away from me and I’ll save my arm for some other team to pitch for.
I think it’s absolutely ridiculous. I think that it’s been 79 years since Washington’s gone to a postseason. And you know what, you think of the Adam LaRoches of the world. These guys have a shot, they have a legitimate shot — with the best rotation in baseball with Strasburg in it — to go to the World Series. And to shut this down like this is absolutely ridiculous.
And the reason I say that, I’ve got the experience. Youngsters like Steve Avery when he was 21 taking us to a World Series with a group of kids, with Smoltz and Glavine and Avery and Pete Smith and one veteran guy, Leibrandt. Prior to Maddux in ’93 — in ’91 and ’92 — these guys all pitched 200-plus innings. Ok? And everybody had long careers.
Tommy John, the namesake of the surgery Strasburg underwent in August 2010, appeared on ESPN broadcaster Colin Cowherd's radio show Wednesday and was asked his opinion on how Rizzo is handling Strasburg.
Citing his own experience with the recovery, John said that an innings limit is an archaic notion that won't guarantee the Nationals superstar's future health. He added that fans should boycott next season if Strasburg gets shut down.
Via USA Today:
From the time I came back until I quit in 1989, I never missed a start in 13 years. Now, we were archaic back there, but here's my take on the thing: There's no guarantee (if) you shut him down. The Yankees screwed Joba Chamberlain over. I mean, this poor kid has had all kind of problems, and they had Joba Rules. ...It didn't help him a bit. He still had to have Tommy John surgery.
So there's no guarantee that you're shutting Strasburg down, that he's going to be healthy down the road. You want him healthy. I understand that. He's the franchise. But you know what? The golden ring only comes around on the merry go round maybe one time. There's no guarantee that if you keep Strasburg out this year and keep him healthy for next year next, year next, year, that you're gonna win.
You've got a chance to win now. Now, I don't say you trash the kid, but you pitch him.
Amid the firestorm of opinions surrounding Strasburg, ESPN baseball columnist Jayson Stark gives us the unalienable truth: We don't know.
Because of the nature of elbow injuries in pitchers and the differences in recovery times for individuals, we'll likely never know whether shutting Strasburg down saved his career or contributed to it ending.
We're never going to know whether this was the right move or the wrong move.
Doesn't matter if the guy goes on to make his next 486 consecutive starts. Doesn't matter if he breaks down in 2013 or 2018 or 2028. We'll never know. Never. Can't possibly know because we don't live in a what-if world.
It would be awesome if real life were scripted by, say, the creators of "Lost," or the screenwriters from "Sliding Doors." Then we would know what might have been if the Nationals were to decide, "Aw, what the heck. Let's let this guy keep pitching."
But in the absence of parallel universes, we're stuck with this universe. So, as Shutdown Day draws ever closer, the Nationals understand they have no choice but to live with whatever happens. And we give them credit. They're prepared to do that. Or that's what they tell us now, at least.
Currently serving as a middle reliever for the Los Angeles Angels, Jason Isringhausen knows a little bit about recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Having undergone the procedure three times in his 15-year professional career, Isringhausen's experience tells him that treating your body with negligence and going full-speed ahead can cause more long-term problems than anything.
Regardless, with the Nationals sitting atop the NL East, Isringhausen also knows that playoff opportunities are fleeting and this is a heart-wrenching decision for Washington.
Via The Washington Post:
If they’re not in the playoff race, they should have done it and nobody cares about [if] it’s the right thing to do. But it’s harder when you’re the ace of the staff and you have the kind of stuff that Strasburg has and you’re in the playoff race. It’s hard to tell the whole team that your best pitcher is done. But they’re thinking of the team’s future. But like many people say, "You don’t know if you're going to make the playoffs next year." It’s a difficult situation.
If you're looking for an opinion from the epicenter of the Strasburg debate, look no further than Washington Post columnist Tracee Hamilton.
In her op-ed piece on the situation, Hamilton gave credit to Rizzo for the rarity of actually sticking to a decision in professional sports. She scoffed at the armchair general managers of the world giving their suggestions.
Via The Washington Post:
It’s a rare GM who tells his star athlete, and you and me, exactly what he’s going to do, and then does it. Think about that. Don’t we all need a little more honesty in our lives? So when the GM tells you from the get-go, nearly two years ago now, that his star pitcher is going to be on a count, and that it’s not going to matter what the situation is, and when he repeats that over and over, takes full responsibility for that decision and makes sure it’s clear that the manager and owner get no blame for it, and he never wavers, you ought to be thinking, “Hey, this guy is perhaps not a giant liar,” not, “What an idiot! I have a much better solution.”
Because you don’t.
If the past has shown anything, it's that baseball analyst Rob Dibble isn't shy in his opinion on Stephen Strasburg.
Dibble famously told the young pitcher to "suck it up" in 2010 before word came out that Strasburg needed Tommy John surgery.
Now with Fox Sports, Dibble's outspokenness hasn't changed. On his radio show, Dibble blasted Strasburg for not speaking up for himself and general manager Mike Rizzo for not doing anything he can to win ballgames.
Via The Washington Post:
That’s all you need to know. It’s out of my hands. I don’t want it in my hands, even though I’m a professional pitcher trying to — from spring training to the end of the season — win championships....He’s in a totally different world. Remember the Stepford Wives? He’s a Stepford Pitcher.
The manager of the Nationals has a world championship ring, called the ’86 Mets, when he was managing Doc Gooden, who was like 20 years old. I think he knows how to handle young pitchers. He’s not gonna burn them out. And then you have a general manager who’s never won a championship. And he’s telling everybody, he knows more than orthopedic surgeons, pitching coaches, everybody. He knows the answer to how you can keep a guy from getting hurt. It’s a wonderful concept. I hope it works. And if you’re hurt, go on the disabled list. If you’re not, then pitch for your team and try to win a world championship. It’s that simple. It shouldn’t be a story. It really shouldn’t be a story. That’s the sad part, that it’s a story. It shouldn’t be. We shouldn’t know the GM’s name or this guy in Washington. Just go out and play.
While many media members are coming out of the woodwork to blast Rizzo for attempting to protect his young phenom, The Denver Post's Troy Renck is not one of them.
In a column for the Post on Tuesday, Renck questioned the organization's method of shutting Strasburg down but lauded its intent.
Via The Denver Post:
Rizzo said it's his decision and his alone when to halt Strasburg's season. He hasn't wavered. And it's commendable that he wants to do what's best for Strasburg, who is returning from elbow ligament surgery. Those in the medical community are applauding the decision.
Fans, not so much. Strasburg is the man in Washington. Don't underestimate the psychological impact of his presence, and what his absence might do.
Clearly, the Nationals could have been more creative with Strasburg. And if Washington bombs in the playoffs, Rizzo will be blasted.
But he is not wrong by doing right by this kid.
Having just returned from an elbow surgery of his own on July 19, Nationals pitcher Drew Storen is experiencing the same on-the-fly rehab as Strasburg did last season.
With many speculating that teammates would feel anger toward the organization and Strasburg if the team went through with the innings limit, Storen's interview with Washington Post reporter Sarah Kogod seems to suggest otherwise.
It's a tough situation. And there's really no right answer to it. But, you have to take care of a guy like that. He's a cornerstone of this organization, and we want him to pitch for the next 10 years. And you see a lot of pitchers, it's a slippery slope. When a guy gets hurt, it's easy to add on, and a guy just keeps on getting more and more injuries. You can't do that with a talent like Stephen Strasburg. He’s going to be a big part of this team for a very long time.
I think everybody kind of has the same opinion. We don’t like it, but we understand it. You just kinda have to hang with him, because it’s one of those things that when we look back on it next year, that’s gonna be the right answer. In hindsight, you’re gonna know what the right thing to do was.