Nats shut down Strasburg, much to ace's chagrin
Move comes after ace looks fatigued mentally, physically in three-inning start
WASHINGTON -- Manager Davey Johnson decided that Stephen Strasburg's season is over.
Johnson said Saturday he knew it was over after watching the right-hander pitch against the Marlins on Friday night. Strasburg had his worst outing of the year in what seemed like a repeat of his Aug. 28 start against Miami. In that game, Strasburg lasted five innings and allowed seven runs -- five earned -- in a 9-0 loss.
On Friday, Strasburg didn't have any answers against the Marlins, lasting three innings and allowing five runs on six hits. He threw 67 pitches, 37 for strikes.
"Davey saw what I saw yesterday," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We are hand and glove in this situation, as we are in all situations. We discuss everything and we are in total agreement [to shut down Strasburg]."
Strasburg took the news hard. He thought he had at least one more start against the Mets on Wednesday.
"It was pretty shocking. Honestly, I'm not too happy about it. I want to keep pitching out there," Strasburg said. "But as of right now, I think we've got some world-renowned doctors, and one of them is Dr. [Lewis] Yocum. He resurrected my career, so I got to listen to him and I got to trust him."
Strasburg acknowledged that he tried to talk the Nationals into letting him pitch one more game, but the team was firm on its decision.
"It's not just about me, it's not about one player," Strasburg said. "The best thing I can do right now is just move forward and be the best teammate I can.
"I don't know if I'm ever going to accept it, to be honest. It's something I'm not happy about at all. That's not why I play the game. I play the game to be a good teammate and win. You don't grow up dreaming of playing in the big leagues to be shut down when it starts to matter. It's going to be a tough one to swallow."
Johnson said it was more of a mental issue than a physical one as to why Strasburg was shut down. Strasburg acknowledged to Johnson a week ago that he had a tough time sleeping because of the impending shutdown. The ace said Saturday that it bothered him longer than that.
"Everybody talks about it and that's all you hear. It's hard not to let it bother you," Strasburg said. "I was doing everything in my power the whole year to help this team win some games, and I felt for the most part, I accomplished that. Like I said, it is what it is. It [stinks]. I just have to move forward and I have to be here for this team."
Strasburg was on an innings limit because of Tommy John surgery in late 2010. He pitched 159 1/3 innings this year and knew before the season started he would be limited.
"He has had a great year. I know what he is going through for the last couple of weeks," Johnson said. "The media hype on this thing has been unbelievable. I feel sorry for him, as it would be [tough] for anybody to get mentally committed in a ballgame.
"If you are not there 100 percent mentally ... he is a gifted athlete and velocity can still be there. But I don't see the crispness, I don't see the ball jumping out of his hand. I'm a firm believer that this game is 99 percent mental. He is only human. I don't how anybody can be ... mentally concentrating on the job at hand with the media hype to this thing. I think we would be risking more sending him back out."
After Friday's game, Johnson spoke to Rizzo about his plans. Johnson slept on his decision and then spoke to Rizzo and pitching coach Steve McCatty about it Saturday morning, and both agreed with the manager.
Rizzo reiterated the Nationals had a similar plan with Jordan Zimmermann, who pitched 161 1/3 innings last year. They never had any intentions of changing their minds on their plans for Strasburg.
"We have a history on these type of rehabilitations, surgeries and how they get back to play a year after the Tommy John surgery," Rizzo said. "We followed the protocol. We had a parameters set in mind. After yesterday's start, we just figured that mentally and physically Stephen looked like he was fatigued. We decided, what's the difference of 159 1/3 innings or 163, 4 or 5 1/2 innings? We said, 'Let's pull the plug today and we move on with the season and try to finish the season off positively.'"
Strasburg was told about the decision while he was in the training room on Saturday morning, and he was emotional.
Strasburg pitched in 28 games and had a 15-6 record with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts.
"He was emotional about it. He is a competitor. He is one heck of a pitcher," Johnson said. "I know he has been struggling with it for weeks. He didn't sleep well thinking about it."
With Strasburg out of the rotation, left-hander John Lannan will pitch against the Mets on Wednesday at Citi Field.
Barring an injury, the Nationals don't need Lannan in the postseason rotation. In a short series, they need only three or four starters.
At Triple-A Syracuse this season, Lannan went 9-11 with a 4.30 ERA. The 27-year-old left-hander also blossomed in his final two starts with the Chiefs, throwing back-to-back shutouts. He was named the International League Pitcher of the Week last week.
It was pretty clear Johnson was unhappy by the all media hype over Strasburg and how many were trying to give the Nationals advice on how to handle their ace.
"Even with all the so-called experts commenting on how to use him, how to get him through October, how to do this, how to do that, I have a little bit of experience on how to handle a pitching staff, and none of those scenarios fit," Johnson said. "If they did, I would have pursued them."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.