When the Nationals take the field in October for Game 1 of the National League Division Series — as they almost surely will — there’s no doubt that the baseball should be in Strasburg’s right hand.
That, of course, is where the story gets murky and a whole cast of characters gets involved. Strasburg’s arm, shoulder and surgically repaired elbow have become the most protected entities in Washington this side of the President of the United States. One almost expects to see men in sunglasses with cords in their ears running alongside him whenever he comes in from the right field bullpen at Nationals Park.
Depending on who you are listening to, Strasburg will a) pitch 160 innings and be shut down for the season; b) pitch 180 innings and be shut down; c) pitch until Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo says he shouldn’t pitch; or d) not pitch again until he’s eligible for free agency. There’s also e) all of the above.
At the center of all of this stand Rizzo and Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras — who, depending on the day of the week and his mood, is either running the team or has never heard of the team.
Generally speaking, Rizzo is a direct sort of guy, someone who tells you what he thinks and why he thinks it. There is absolutely no questioning the job he has done in putting together a team that currently has baseball’s best record just two years removed from back-to-back years with one of baseball’s worst records.
Boras isn’t quite as easy to read. Two weeks ago he told The Post’s Mike Wise — among other things — that, “Mike Rizzo and I put this team together.” He also puffed his chest out and said he’d told Rizzo in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t take some kind of blood oath to preserve, protect and defend all things Strasburg back in 2009 that he’d “send [Strasburg] back to college.” Exactly why any general manager wouldn’t pledge to protect the health of a multi-million dollar player is hard to figure, but Boras wanted everyone to know that neither Rizzo nor anyone working for the Nationals was likely to cross him then, now or in the future.
When Boras’s comments — which are on tape — were read back to him, he began back-pedaling at Darrell Green-like speed. He may have backpedaled a 4.29 40. By the time he was finished he had told Adam Kilgore, The Post’s Nationals beat writer, that he had no idea when Strasburg might be shut down and that he never even discussed it with Rizzo.
All of that said, let’s cut to the chase: Strasburg should not be shut down at some arbitrary time based on innings, pitch count, Rizzo’s eye test or Robert Griffin III’s completion percentage. He should only be shut down if and when there is any tangible evidence that his shoulder, elbow or arm are hurting in any way at all. Because here are the facts on young pitchers and Tommy John surgery: There are no facts. Oh sure, there are numbers, but what applies to Jordan Zimmermann doesn’t necessarily apply to Strasburg and what applies to Strasburg may not apply to this year’s No. 1 draft pick, Lucas Giolito, who also is about to undergo Tommy John surgery.