Press conference about Strasburg's shutdown
Nationals Manager Davey Johnson
Craig Heist, wtop.com
WASHINGTON — Stephen Strasburg's season is officially over.
After watching Strasburg give up five runs on six hits over three innings on Friday night in his start against the Marlins, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo took the night to sleep on it.
Saturday morning, Johnson said they were pulling the plug on Strasburg's season.
"I just told Stephen that his year is over," Johnson said to reporters before the game. "He's had a great year. I know what he's been going through for actually the last couple of weeks. The media hype on this thing has been unbelievable."
After Johnson saw Strasburg's start on Friday night, the decision to shut him down was that much clearer to him. Johnson is convinced all of the talk about the shutdown and the innings limit was taking a toll on his 24-year-old starter.
"This game is 90 to 95 percent mental," Johnson said. "He's only human and I don't know how anybody can be totally and mentally concentrating on the job at hand with all the media hype to this thing. I think we would be risking more sending him back out.
Strasburg finishes out the year with a record of 15-6 and a 3.16 ERA. He threw 159 1/3 innings and struck out 197 while walking just 48.
The Nationals' plan to limit Strasburg's innings has been set in stone since February. It is the same plan they had in place with Jordan Zimmermann last year in his first full year after coming back from Tommy John surgery.
Zimmermann had pitched 161 1/3 innings last season when he was shut down, but this is under very different circumstances. The Nationals appear headed to win the NL East and reach the playoff for the first time in their history. When that is coupled with the attention Strasburg has received ever since he was drafted number one overall in 2009, the Nats felt the need to do this now.
"I made this call," Johnson said. "My job is to do what's best for the player and this is what's best."
That doesn't make it any easier for Strasburg to accept and Johnson is aware of that.
"He's emotional about it," he said. "He's one heck of a pitcher and a heck of a competitor. I know he's been struggling with it for weeks and I know he doesn't sleep good thinking about it."
Strasburg had won six straight starts from May 20 to June 20 and was 9-1 overall after beating the Tampa Bay Rays at that time. Beginning with his start on June 25 against Colorado at Coors Field, Strasburg went 6-5 with three no-decisions the rest of the way. Along the way, there was a three-game losing streak and a four- game winning streak.
There were some inconsistencies especially toward the end. In his last three starts, Strasburg lost 9-0 at Miami on August 28, giving up seven runs over five innings. In his next start on September 2, he rebounded against the Cardinals and fired six shutout innings while striking out nine before he had the rough start Friday night against the Marlins.
In fact, Strasburg has the worst ERA of any of the five starters in the rotation (3.73) since the All-Star break.
Nats GM Mike Rizzo said everyone has been on the same page with this decision since day one.
"After yesterday's start, we felt like both mentally and physically, it looked like Stephen was fatigued," Rizzo said. "We decided what's the difference between 159 1/3 innings or 163 or four and five, so we said lets pull the plug today and try to finish this season off positively."
That means making a run at the division title and the playoffs and, for the Nationals, what they hope will end with a World Series championship.
The Nationals knew they wouldn't have Strasburg for the stretch run. What they didn't count on was all the media scrutiny that came with a decision to shut down a pitcher whose future they are trying to protect because doctors say that's the right thing to do.
"A lot of times in the middle of the night I wake up thinking about things," Johnson said. "I can imagine with all the attention this has had, you can't hardly turn on the TV without someone commenting on why it's wrong and what we're doing. That would wear on anybody."
But Johnson said he would not have changed anything about the way he handled Strasburg.
"No, not at all," he said. "Even with all the so-called experts commenting on how to use him, how to get him through October, how to do this, how to do that. I have a little bit of experience in how to handle a pitching staff and none of those scenarios fit."
Now they don't have to worry about the critics - unless, of course, they don't win the World Series.
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)