How Stephen Strasburg's 180 Innings Limit Could Change Everything for the Nats

Ian Casselberry@iancassMLB Lead WriterJuly 26, 2012

Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has consistently refused to put a number on the innings limit he's set for pitcher Stephen Strasburg this season. 

The limit was generally presumed to be 160 innings, which is where Jordan Zimmermann was cut off last year in his first full season since having reconstructive surgery on his right elbow. (Zimmermann pitched 161.1 innings, to be exact.) 

Yet Rizzo has maintained that Strasburg could pitch more than 160 innings—there's no set number. The decision will be made based on what he sees from their young (fragile) phenom as the season progresses. Does he look tired? Are his mechanics suffering? Does he have diminished velocity or movement on his pitches? Etc. 

"There is no magic number," Rizzo said to MLB.com's Bill Ladson. "It will be the eye test. [Manager] Davey [Johnson] won't decide, and ownership won't decide. It will be the general manager, and that's me."

Strasburg surely passed whatever test Rizzo's eyes laid on him Wednesday afternoon. Facing the New York Mets, the Nats ace allowed one run and four hits over seven innings. Strasburg also racked up 11 strikeouts. 

No, the Mets haven't provided much opposition lately, losing six in a row and 11 of 12 games since the All-Star break. So maybe that's not the truest demonstration for Rizzo's eye test. However, the performance was certainly a reminder of how dominant Strasburg can be. Does Rizzo really want to deprive his team of that sort of pitching during its playoff run?

The Nats GM may be yielding on that innings limit just a bit, according to Ladson

According to a source, it is not set in stone that #Strasburg would pitch 160 innings this year. It could go up to 180 innings

— William Ladson (@washingnats) July 24, 2012


Of course, this could very well have been Rizzo's plan all along. The fact that he wouldn't be pinned to 160 innings meant that he probably envisioned Strasburg pitching more this season. As Strasburg continues to look strong and the Nationals continue to stay competitive in the NL East, Rizzo is expanding the boundaries of his initial plan.

So let's look at how expanding Strasburg's workload to 180 innings would affect the Nationals. After Wednesday's start, Strasburg has 117.1 innings for the season. If he was being restricted to 160 innings, he'd have approximately 42 more to pitch.

With Strasburg pitching an average of six innings per appearance, that would leave him with seven more starts in 2012. If the Nationals stuck to their current rotation, that would take him up to Sept. 2. 

But if his innings limit is expanded to 180, 20 more innings would allow for approximately three more starts. That takes Strasburg to Sept. 19, two weeks before the end of the regular season. So the Nats would not have to go a full month without their No. 1 starter. 

However, if Strasburg gets that close to the end of the season and the Nationals have clinched or are on the verge of clinching a division title or wild-card playoff spot, doesn't he have to keep going into October and contribute to a postseason run? 

Again, that holds true if the Nationals keep Strasburg on his regular rotation. If that's the case, shouldn't the Nationals skip a couple of Strasburg's turns to ensure that his season can be extended a couple of weeks through the regular season and into the playoffs?

We're not talking about anything that drastic here. Plenty of teams sit a pitcher out for a turn or two to give an arm a little extra rest or set a rotation up in a certain order. 

Extending Strasburg's innings limit by 20—or what amounts to three starts—might not sound like much. But those three additional appearances could be significant for the Nationals as they go for their first division title in franchise history and a shot at the postseason.

With no favorite emerging among the National League playoff contenders—and certainly not the NL East—more from Strasburg could be the difference in the Nationals making it to the World Series. 

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