The Tenth Inning – Week 16 Stephen Strasburg

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The Tenth Inning – Week 16 – Stephen Strasburg ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>


By Mike Ivcic

I’ve made the case in this column many times about how ludicrous I find it that the Nationals continue to insist that, at some point this season, they will shut down Stephen Strasburg. The guy – really, more like a “kid” – has only proven himself to be one of the top pitchers in the game this season, worthy of an All-Star selection and worthy of inclusion on the short list of NL Cy Young candidates. Meanwhile, his team is in position to claim a playoff berth for the first time in their history in Washington, and the first division title for the franchise since the split season win in 1981. For my money, these aren’t opportunities that should just be thrown away because of some concern over one person’s arm, no matter how “valuable” he may be or how much time and money has been invested in that particular player. At some point, caution must be thrown to the wind in order to capture that elusive goal of a division title, pennant, or championship – especially since facts don’t back up general manager Mike Rizzo’s irrational plan of shutting down the team’s best pitcher in mid-August.


First, let’s examine some of the major pitching injuries that have recently occurred. As a Mets fan, perhaps the most damaging was Johan Santana’s shoulder injury that cost him all of 2011. It’s rare to see a pitcher recover from such an injury, as doctors and surgeons have a much lower success rate dealing with the shoulder than they do the elbow. Some “experts” predicted that Santana’s short-arming motion would lead to an injury at some point, and he certainly appears to have hit a wall during his first season back… but he also threw the first no-hitter in Mets history on June 1 this season, so we’ll take it.

Another workhorse that went down, albeit briefly, this season was Roy Halladay. The master of the complete game and the 200+ inning pitched season will fall well short of his career averages in both categories this year for the Phillies. His whip-like motion certainly takes some of the strain off of his shoulder, but that stress transfers forward to his elbow and backwards to his back – both of which flamed up slightly this season as scouts and team officials noticed a slightly strained delivery and decreased velocity prior to his trip to the DL. He appears to have recovered, but like Santana is now in his mid-30’s and likely won’t ever be able to really match his previous dominance.

John Lackey should also be added into the injury group. The former Cy Young winner for the Angels had a miserable first season in Boston in 2011, and hasn’t thrown a single pitch this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the offseason. Another guy typically reliable for 200+ innings won’t even record an out this year because of injury – but, once again, he’s now past 30 and the physical toll of throwing a baseball has forced him to the sidelines for a full season.

The list could go on an on – Pedro Martinez was once the most dominant pitcher in the game, yet couldn’t stay off the DL late in his career and probably wound up losing most of his last five seasons. Carl Pavano, Randy Johnson, Josh Beckett, Derek Lowe, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Mike Hampton – all wound up spending significant time on the DL and either came back to close to what they used to be for a small period of time, or in the cases of Mulder and Hampton never managed to really become effective pitchers again. And those are just the names of better pitchers or those who earned big-time contracts like Pavano and Lowe. The list of fourth starters and middle relievers that have had arm problems would be longer than all of my columns this season combined.

So what’s the takeaway? Two things – one, even the best pitchers get hurt, and teams are forced to respond to those injuries and adapt their game plan, so why Mike Rizzo is trying to fight nature is beyond me. Secondly, injuries to pitchers are random and the seriousness of them cannot be determined beforehand. No one could have predicted that Hudson would recover and still be pitcher while Mulder would be working for ESPN. Throwing a baseball is a violent, abnormal motion, and the way a player’s body responds to that motion and any subsequent injury is the great unknown.

What can be proven? That injuries become significantly more common as the player gets older – see Johnson, Martinez, Santana, Halladay, Lackey, et al. – so worrying about the arm of a 23-year-old superstar won’t make anyone happy this year, and likely won’t save Strasburg from any real injuries down the line. If his motion and body type dictates Tommy John surgery at 29, an extra 40 innings won’t change that, and 40 innings less isn’t going to delay that injury either. Long-term, big-money contracts almost never get fulfilled without a trip to the DL, as the Phillies are about to find out with Cole Hamels, so just bite the bullet and let the kid pitch. If he gets hurt, it won’t be because he made those 5-10 additional starts.

But not making those 5-10 additional starts certainly makes this Nationals team a sure bet to be a quick out in the postseason – if they get there.

Playoff “Dead” List
July 30 – Milwaukee Brewers
Tough choice this week between the Brewers and the Phillies, but since Milwaukee got swept by the Phillies they go first. The reason Milwaukee was so good last year was in large part thanks to their bullpen, which is the exact reason why they’re not good this year. Trading away Zach Greinke was the official signal to the Brewers and their fans that it may be time for a slight rebuild before another run at an NL pennant.
July 23 – Toronto Blue Jays
July 16 – Kansas City Royals
July 9 – Oakland Athletics
July 2 – Colorado Rockies
June 25 – Seattle Mariners
June 18 – Houston Astros
June 11 – Minnesota Twins
June 4 – Chicago Cubs
May 28 – San Diego Padres

Three series to watch this week…
1) LAA @ TEX (7/30-8/2) – Four huge games between the Angels and Rangers could go a long way towards deciding this division. I still think the A’s will ultimately cool off and miss the playoffs, so if the Angels can somehow even earn a split here, they’ll be in good shape entering the final two months of the season.
2) DET @ BOS (7/30-8/1) – Bobby Valentine seems to think his team still has a chance at making the playoffs by winning the division. Winning series at home against another team fighting and clawing to stay in the playoff race like the Tigers is a must in order to do that.
3) TB @ OAK (7/30-8/2) – If the Athletics really want to stay in the race, they absolutely need to make sure they distance themselves from clubs in other divisions like the Rays. This should be a well-pitched series, and the Rays are only 2.5 games back of Oakland, so each of these four games will carry a lot of weight.

If the season ended today, the playoff teams would be…
National League
1. Washington Nationals
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. San Francisco Giants
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Atlanta Braves

American League
1. New York Yankees
2. Texas Rangers
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Oakland Athletics
5. Los Angeles Angels

Check out my weekly column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday and the weekly “Power Rankings” every Friday, only at

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