The good news is the Washington Nationals are 51-35 and hold a three game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. They lead the majors in team ERA (3.14), are fifth in strikeouts (723), and have allowed the fewest hits per nine innings (7.7). Since moving to the nation’s capital from Montreal the Nationals haven’t finished above .500 and haven’t made a playoff appearance. Barring a second half collapse both have a good chance of happening in 2012 and a big contributor to the above stats has been Stephen Strasburg.
The right-hander has become one of the best pitchers in baseball and would obviously be a key component in a late season playoff push for Washington, if not for an innings cap placed on him by the team to prevent taxing his arm/shoulder after Tommy John surgery. That was before Washington got off to such a good start and had many around the baseball world and in the organization thinking the playoffs are a distinct possibility.
Strasburg is currently at 105 innings pitched and assuming he takes the mound every fifth day he would reach the imposed limit before a stretch run for the playoffs (should they remain in contention) and leave the Nationals with a giant hole to fill in their starting rotation for meaningful games. Former Braves pitcher John Smoltz offered a suggestion when he spoke with ESPN Radio on how the Nationals ace could stretch his time in the rotation as much as possible.
“Honestly, I know this is gonna sound . . . well, I’m a little bit different anyways,” Smoltz began. “I’d create my own little gap. I’d have a blister one day, maybe a hangnail the next start. You know, I think there’s ways to do it. And I get it — their statement is every game counts. Well, it does, but it doesn’t count as much as in September.
“You’re in your own division, you can either lengthen your gap or close the gap. And I just think that’s gonna be hard to explain to 23, 24 other players, why this guy is going to [not pitch].”
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo deserves as much credit as anyone for the team being in the position it is with the moves he’s made. That being said, how he and the organization handle this situation could have a sizable impact on the outcome of this season.
Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Jordan Zimmerman, and Ross Detwiler have more than held their own this year. Chien-Ming Wang is the only pitcher other than those four and Strasburg to start a game for the Nationals this season and would likely step into the rotation, provided he’s healthy. Wang went on the disabled list earlier this month with a right hip injury, but did make his first rehab start in the minors this past Friday. For the season Wang is 2-3 with a 7.61 ERA and hasn’t been the same pitcher who won 19 games in both 2006 and 2007 with the Yankees since returning from Tommy John surgery himself last season.
The Nationals have enough quality arms that they won’t fall off the cliff when Stephen Strasburg hits the 160 innings mark. But if it happened in the last week of September instead of the first week that would be even better.
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