The Washington Nationals are modifying their plan to shut Stephen Strasburg down this season after 160 innings — a plan that would leave the team without its ace pitcher as soon as mid-August, just as the pennant chase is heating up.
"We had high hopes for the team this year, but they are exceeding even those expectations," said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo of his first place club. "We believe we can compete for a World Series title this year, and we want to do it with Stephen at our disposal. Yet we want to protect his arm, too."
So Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson have hit on an idea that will allow them to give Strasburg heavy innings even deep into October.
"Soft-tossing. We've told him that if any pitches crack 70 mph on the radar gun, he's getting pulled," said Rizzo. "But now that he's exerting almost no effort out there, we feel we don't need to put an innings or pitch count on him. I don't know why we didn't think of this before."
Strasburg tried out the new approach in his latest start and got knocked around by the lowly Padres, giving up four runs on seven hits in four innings – his worst performance of the season.
"This is really going to force me to focus on location and on out-thinking the hitters," said Strasburg. "Because right now, I'm throwing to major league hitters with less velocity than a bad high school reliever. In the long run, I think this will make me a better pitcher."
The Nationals say it's all part of the long-term recovery plan they developed for the phenom when he tore his elbow.
"He's on a pace to be allowed to throw as hard as he wants for as many innings as he is capable of when he is 34," said Rizzo. "Needless to say, we are pretty excited about the 2023 season."