Stephen Strasburg sure didn't look like a pitcher with issues Sunday afternoon in Washington. Quite the opposite, he looked like someone the St. Louis Cardinals or any other team wouldn't want to face in the playoffs a month from now.
The fact that won't be happening isn't merely stupefying. It might be the worst decision for baseball in Washington since the Senators first fled to Minnesota a half-century ago.
Think about it. A Washington team is on the verge of playing a postseason game for the first time since the country was still in the grips of the Great Depression. But when the Nationals open the playoffs — almost surely at home — they'll do it with their best pitcher watching from the dugout, unavailable to help.
All in the name of protecting an arm no one is even sure needs protecting.
Of all the crazy things done in the nation's capital, this may be the craziest. The motive might be admirable — certainly no one wants to see Strasburg end up washed up early like Mark Prior, another recent phenom — but it's based on theory and feel with no real basis in scientific study. It also seems at least partly driven by Strasburg's agent, Scott Boras, who by the nature of his job is more concerned with his client's future earning potential than the possibility of a Washington team winning the World Series for the first time since 1924.
Surely, anyone watching Sunday as Strasburg hit the mid-90s with his fastball would be hard-pressed to find any deterioration in his arm since the season began. He allowed just two hits in six shutout innings against a team the Nationals could be facing in the playoffs, striking out nine to regain the strikeout lead in the National League while lowering his ERA to 2.94.
For that, he gets two more starts, the last coming Sept. 12 against the Mets at Citi Field. Then general manager Mike Rizzo plans to shut him down for the season for fear of risking any more innings on a right arm a year removed from reconstructive elbow surgery.
For Strasburg, that means no playoffs. For Nationals fans, it means having to deal with the idea the best team in baseball will have a tougher time making the World Series than it would have with its ace on the mound.
For Rizzo, it's the right move no matter who criticizes it.
"Stephen Strasburg is one of the most popular players in baseball and it is a good conversational piece," Rizzo said after the game. "It is a debatable subject, but most of the people who have weighed in on this know about 10 percent of the information that we know, that we've made our opinion and based it on."
If Nats fans have trouble swallowing that, it's not because they wish any ill will to Strasburg or the right arm that has already made him quite rich. Surely they want to see him healthy and throwing 95 mph fastballs in Washington for years to come.
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