Breaking Down Bizarre Scenarios That Could Keep Strasburg Pitching into October
Despite the fact we all know that, we're all just as confused as to exactly when Strasburg's season will come to an end.
The Nationals have kinda danced around setting a firm termination date for Strasburg, but the latest word out of Washington from Nats manager Davey Johnson is that Strasburg has "two or three" more starts to go, according to Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post.
If it's three more starts, then Strasburg's final start of the season will come on September 12 against the New York Mets.
According to Bill Ladson of MLB.com, there won't be any more after that, even if the Nats make it to the postseason. When Strasburg is done, he'll be done. No ifs, ands or buts.
And no, Johnson isn't about to cheat in order to lengthen Strasburg's season. He told the Post that he's "not going to drag it out and give [Strasburg] seven days between starts."
Nuts. There goes that plan.
Which is too bad, because that would be a good way to keep Strasburg's innings down to the point where the Nats might decide to reconsider their stance on Strasburg pitching in October.
Thankfully, there are other ways the Nats could come to a crossroads such as that. Here's a look at several super-bizarre scenarios that could lengthen Strasburg's season.
Early Exits Thanks to Pinch-Hitters
Numerous cockamamie schemes that the Nats could use to keep Strasburg's innings down have been floated by experts and fans alike throughout the course of the season. Everyone has a brilliant idea.
One that I proposed a while back was to limit Strasburg to a set number of innings in each start, say four or five, before pulling him and replacing him with a long reliever.
The problem with this plan is that it can be kinda hard for a manager to pull a starter after only four or five innings of work if said starter is pitching a gem. And last I checked, Strasburg has a bit of tendency to pitch gems.
There is a way, however, that Davey Johnson can get Strasburg out of games early without making it look too obvious that he cares more about Strasburg's health than winning games.
He could do this by pinch-hitting for Strasburg before he has a chance to go too deep into a given game. Pinch-hitting for him in the fourth or fifth inning, for example, would be perfect.
Would Johnson be fooling anyone?
No. Nobody would be stupid enough to believe that he's pinch-hitting for Strasburg so early because it's good strategy. At least, I don't think anyone's that stupid.
But would it work?
To a degree, yes. In theory, Johnson could use this plan to have Strasburg pitch four innings in each of his next three starts instead of, say, six. That could potentially lead to an extra start, and a four-inning appearance in that extra start could lead to another extra start, and so on.
Admittedly, not really. To get Strasburg to October, something a lot more bizarre than a plan such as this is required.
Another Rough Outing or 2
The last time Strasburg took the mound, he was rocked for seven earned runs in five innings by the Miami Marlins. About a month before, on July 31, he lasted only four innings against the Philadelphia Phillies in a start that saw him give up six earned runs.
So yeah, Strasburg's not perfect. He looks like the most dominant pitcher in baseball most days. Other days, he looks like Joe Blanton.
Things could be worse. It's not unheard of for pitchers to last three, two or even one inning in a start, and Strasburg hasn't had any of those starts yet this season. He's pitched at least five innings in all but three of his starts this season.
...But since he's operating on a fairly strict innings limit, maybe a one- or two-inning start wouldn't be such a bad thing.
And shoot, perhaps two or three such starts would be even better.
The Nationals would surely be tempted to shut Strasburg down if he only manages to log somewhere between four and 10 innings in his next "two or three" starts due to immense suckitude, but they could look on the bright side and notice that he's still under the (unnecessarily nebulous) innings cap they've set for him.
Not really. You get the sense that the Nationals are already playing with fire after Strasburg's most recent start. If he stinks up the joint even one more time, the Nats may decide it's about time they pulled the plug.
But if Strasburg were to leave a start early through no fault of his own...
Think back, if you will, to the game the Nationals played against the Atlanta Braves on June 30.
In that one, Strasburg lasted only three innings, his shortest outing of the season. It wasn't because he was getting rocked, though he definitely didn't have his best stuff. No, he left early because it was too damn hot.
The game-time temperature in Atlanta that day was over 100 degrees, and Strasburg quickly became dehydrated after throwing 67 pitches in his three innings of work. He was dehydrated enough to the point where he had to get a series of IV treatments, according to the Associated Press.
A thought occurs: If the Nationals won't limit Strasburg's innings, perhaps Mother Nature will.
Heat isn't the only tool Mother Nature could use to keep Strasburg's innings down. She could also decide to make it rain during one (or all) of Strasburg's remaining starts, thus forcing him out after an inning or two.
This would certainly be preferable to Strasburg leaving a start early due to a bad performance, as bad performances tend to come complete with high pitch counts. That wouldn't necessarily be the case in a weather-shortened start.
And hey, it wouldn't be Strasburg's fault Mother Nature intervened. A reality such as that could convince the Nats to give him another shot.
Or two. Or three. It depends on how tuned in to the situation Mother Nature is.
Not really, but certainly more plausible than the above scenarios.
I think we may be getting somewhere. Let's keep going.
An Early Ejection
A pitcher doesn't have to get rained on, dehydrated or suck really, really bad in order to leave a start early.
Getting very, very angry instead can prove to be just as effective if one is that desperate to leave a start early. To grab an early shower, one needs only to tick off an umpire.
Greinke, of course, started the very next day. He started for the Brewers again in their first game after the All-Star break, making him the first pitcher since 1917 to start three straight games.
But I digress. Strasburg doesn't need to pull a Greinke in order to get himself tossed from a game as a means of limiting his innings. He could pull a Scott Diamond instead.
Last week, Diamond was ejected from a game against the Texas Rangers after throwing only 53 pitches because he threw a pitch a little too close to Josh Hamilton's noggin. Umpires will let most other brushback pitches go without making a fuss, but chin music is a no-no.
Granted, playing chin music isn't really Strasburg's style. He's only hit four batters all season, and he just doesn't have the same kind of temperament as Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez did back in the day. He's not going to buzz or hit anybody just because he feels like it.
But if he wants to pitch in October and he thinks getting himself run a little early will help, he might just dabble in anger in the near future.
If he's really lucky, he'll get himself suspended.
Not quite, but at least this scenario is a matter of Strasburg's own free will rather than a matter of which way the winds are blowing. That's not much, but it's something.
Of course, his situation has less to do with his free will and more to do with the free will of his superiors.
Maybe Davey Johnson Will Decide 5 Starting Pitchers Isn't Enough
This season, we've seen the Colorado Rockies go to a four-man rotation and we've seen the Atlanta Braves go to a six-man rotation.
The Nationals, meanwhile, are sticking with a boring, vanilla-flavored five-man rotation. Presently, it consists of Strasburg, Ross Detwiler, Edwin Jackson, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.
Now, Johnson says that he's not about to delay Strasburg seven days in between starts or anything like that. The implication there is that he's not about to start messing with Strasburg, but one assumes that he also doesn't want to mess with his rotation.
But if he were to establish a new rotation...a longer one, perhaps...
The Nationals have John Lannan waiting in the wings, and Chien-Ming Wang could soon be ready to return from his lengthy injury absence. With rosters expanding, they're two experienced starting pitchers who could help the Nationals in September.
And why keep them confined to the bullpen when they can be used as traditional starters?
According to The Washington Post, Lannan already figures into Johnson's plans for his starting rotation. In fact, he's going to be the guy who gets to take over for Strasburg when he is finally shut down.
In this alternate universe of ours, Lannan would join Strasburg in Washington's rotation rather than replace him, and Wang would also soon be added. Thus, Strasburg would pitch every seventh day by necessity rather than by some gimmick.
Not really. Nats GM Mike Rizzo watches Johnson like a hawk, so one assumes Johnson wouldn't be able to slip a six- or seven-man rotation by him without incurring some kind of wrath.
The Strasburg situation is, after all, ultimately Rizzo's call.
Maybe Mike Rizzo Will Have a Change of Heart
According to a recent report from the Post, Johnson's use of Strasburg and indeed even his perception of Strasburg must be taken with a grain of salt. He's not the one in control of Strasburg.
Mike Rizzo is.
“When I see with my eyes that he’s had enough, he’ll have enough,” Rizzo said of Strasburg.
This has been Rizzo's insistence all along. As he told Baseball Prospectus (subscription) way back in April, he is going to rely on his years of experience to tell him when the time is right to shut down Strasburg.
"I am going to refer to my experience as a farm director, as a player development guy and knowing his body," he said.
Rizzo hasn't wavered. His heart has long since been hardened.
The only way Strasburg is going to pitch in October is if Rizzo's heart softens, and that's going to take something drastic.
Basically, it's up to the baseball gods to intervene.
Actually, yeah. The baseball gods work in mysterious ways.
And I'll be damned if they don't want to watch Strasburg pitch in October just as much as we do.
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