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Allen: Nationals should not sit Strasburg (Sept. 6)

Chris Allen | Wednesday, September 5, 2012


The baseball playoffs are still a month away, but a few things are certain about them. The Texas Rangers are going to be there. The Cincinnati Reds are going to be there. Above all, the Washington Nationals are certainly going to be there.

Sure, the Nationals are probably the biggest lock to make noise coming down baseball’s stretch run. But the news isn’t all good. Washington general manager Mike Rizzo has made a decision that, while morally admirable, could end up being one that Nationals fans will rue for a long time.

Let’s step back a bit. The Nationals weren’t always called the Nationals, they didn’t always have young stars at every position and even in our nation’s capital they didn’t always play in beautiful Nationals Park. Not even a decade ago the franchise wore blue pinstripes in dingy Olympic Park in Montreal and called themselves the Expos. They had few fans, fewer stars, little hope and no playoff appearances since 1981. One by one, things got better. The franchise moved to Washington in 2005 and re-invigorated a great baseball town. They still played in a cookie cutter monstrosity called RFK Stadium. Three seasons later, they fixed that and moved into brand-new Nationals Park. The baseball was still bad.

Then Stephen Strasburg came to town. Nationals fans, and baseball fans, had heard of the kid. The best pitching prospect of all-time, some said. He pitched brilliantly at the front line of a U.S. Olympic pitching rotation before he even graduated from college. He carried San Diego State into postseason baseball under the watch of a Hall of Fame coach. And on August 17, 2009, he was a Washington National.

Now let’s step back to 2012. Strasburg is what everyone thought he would be – an ace with few equals. He is 15-6 with a 2.94 ERA and the Nationals are in first place by eight games with one of the best records in baseball. The team will play its first playoff game in 31 years about a month from today. Yet in a move that both protects the franchise’s investment in the future and could derail its chances in the present, Rizzo is shutting Strasburg down for the season due to a team-imposed innings limit on September 12. When Strasburg walks off the mound after his last pitch that day against the Mets, he will be doing so for the last time in a season that Nationals fans have awaited for decades.

On a moral and even financial level, the move makes sense. The Nationals have incentive to protect the right arm of their star, who has already had Tommy John surgery before the age of 24. But tell that to the long-suffering baseball fan in the nation’s capital. Tell that to the fan that followed the Expos from Montreal to Washington and remembers the 1994 strike, when Larry Walker and the Expos were playoff-bound in a strike-shortened season. Tell them the Nationals will play their first playoffs since 1981 without their best pitcher. Tell them they’ll be fine with Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler on the mound and Strasburg sitting in a jacket on the bench.

It is a credit to Rizzo that he has assembled a pitching staff that can still compete with those of the Reds and Giants. But if anyone other than the boys from the nation’s capital hoist the World Series trophy, loud voices will be turning Rizzo’s way and asking one question.

What if?


Contact Chris Allen at callen10@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.