Philadelphia, PA – Stephen Strasburg sure isn't making it easy on Washington Nationals brass which has apparently already made the decision to shut down 24-year-old right-hander at some point.
Strasburg was again terrific on Tuesday against Atlanta, as he won his fourth straight start, surrendering just a run and four hits in six innings, while striking out 10 to reclaim the National League lead in strikeouts with 183.
With each passing inning, however, Strasburg's season is drawing to a close, even though the Nationals own the best record in the majors at 77-46 and seem like a lock to play in the postseason for the first time since 1981.
But what is the limit? Strasburg is at 145 1/3 innings right now and general manager Mike Rizzo has not really specified an exact number. Some have said it's 160, while others have said that total could reach as many as 180.
Even Strasburg is not sure of what's going on.
"It's funny. Nobody talks to me personally about it," Strasburg said of the team-mandated innings limit that has not been revealed publicly. "I can either scour the Internet, watch all the stuff being said on TV or I can just keep pitching."
Either way, it doesn't look as if Strasburg will be pitching for the Nats in October.
You can see both sides of the argument here.
Strasburg is just one year removed from returning from Tommy John surgery that cut his season short in 2010 and allowed him to make five late-season starts in 2011. Why risk the rest of his career for just this one season?
By the way, the Nationals did the same thing to righty Jordan Zimmerman last year, cutting him off just shy of 162 innings. And in case you haven't noticed, Zimmerman is in the midst of his best season as a pro this year and is among the NL ERA leaders at 2.54.
Orthopedists have said that pitchers returning from the elbow surgery sometime show signs of fatigue and that leads to their mechanics getting messed up. And it is that imbalance that puts more load on the arm, and, of course, could lead to serious injury.
But given his last few starts, Strasburg is not showing any signs of fatigue. and there is no research that definitively concludes pitchers who cut their workload after Tommy John surgery are less likely to get injured down the road.
Essentially we're never going to know whether this was the right move or not.
Still, you can't blame Rizzo for taking the more cautious approach with his young superstar. Anyone think the Mets regret allowing Johan Santana to throw 134 pitches the night of his no-hitter?
Then again, the Strasburg Rules are awfully hard to explain to some veterans on the Nationals who may not be here next season or two years down the road and this is really their only shot at a championship.
"I get their side," first baseman Adam LaRoche said recently. "But our side is, the playoffs aren't guaranteed. You don't want to shut your best guy down - or one of your best guys, because we've got a bunch of them - if you're never going to go back there. If I knew for the next two or three years we're going to go back, then it's probably an easy decision."
But if those running the Nationals knew this was going to be the case at the start of the year, why not delay the beginning of his season? What is more important, having Strasburg pitch deep into September and October or having him make some meaningless April or May starts?
Or maybe even do what the Chicago White Sox are doing with their young left- hander Chris Sale, having him skip a start here and there so he would still be ready to pitch in the postseason.
It just seems the Nationals could have been a little more creative in their approach.
Even without Strasburg, though, the Nationals are in pretty good shape with the likes of Gio Gonzalez, Zimmerman and the playoff-proven Edwin Jackson at the front of their rotation. Plus John Lannan has filled in nicely as a starter when called upon this season.
"The job isn't finished. It's still August," Strasburg said on Tuesday. "We're still focused. We're still trying to win as many games as we can."
But how many more wins is he going to be allowed to participate in?