About Strasburg’s Innings Today

I wasn’t at the park at Opening Day today. I had to tune in and listen to it on the radio.

I missed a hell of a time to be there. The Nats beat the hated Marlins 2-0 behind two Bryce Harper homers and seven shutout innings from Stephen Strasburg.

Indeed, Strasburg was out of the game after only throwing 80 pitches. The sound of fans griping about yet more “kid gloves” treatment for Strasburg could be heard all over Twitter. Strasburg was dealing–why limit him now?

Even Barry Svrluga, veteran Post-ie, seemed to take issue with the sudden, unwelcome appearance of Captain Hook:

Here’s why Strasburg was out of the game with 80 pitches: the Nats have the day off tomorrow (Tuesday), and the bullpen is currently hurting for work.

In the last week of Grapefruit League play (including the exhibition game against the Yankees), going back to last Sunday,  the Nationals relievers that are on the actual big-league staff right now have pitched only 16.2 innings.

Would I love to see a complete game shutout from Strasburg? You bet. But there’s no reason to leave Strasburg hanging out there on a cool, misty afternoon to get a complete game just for the sake of getting a complete game. I would prefer to see Strasburg–or any starting pitcher, really–get a complete game any day but Opening Day.

Later this year, there will be periods during which the bullpen will be taxed. There will be long extra-inning night games that last into the wee hours of the morning, followed by brutal afternoon games, followed by travel. There will be times where a starting pitcher doesn’t get through a lot of innings. There will be doubleheaders. There will be stretches where relievers will appear on three consecutive nights–like Storen did when he entered the game in NLDS Game Five.

I would much rather that a Strasburg complete game happen during one of those periods, where it does the most good. An opening day win against the Marlins (who are expected to be the worst team in the division) is nice. A complete game, saving a tired bullpen in the middle of a tense series with the Braves would be much, much better.

The Final Countdown

Remember how I said almost a month ago that I was done talking about the Strasburg Limit?

That tweet from the inimitable Bill Ladson settled it. Now we know: the Strasburg Limit will be no greater than 180 innings. For most of the baseball commentariat outside the Beltway, this carries far more significance than the possible detection of the Higgs boson.

But what does this mean?

As I write this, Strasburg has pitched 127.1 innings. That means he has 52.2 innings left to pitch. So far, Strasburg has averaged just about 5.2 innings per start. At that rate, Strasburg will have 9 more starts. That means he will be permitted to pitch out the entire regular season, and shut down for any post-season play. Like Moses atop Mount Nebo, Strasburg will be permitted to see the Promised Land, but he will not be allowed to enter into it himself. At least not this year.

There is still work to be done, though. By my count of the rotation, Strasburg will face the Braves once (on August 21 at Nats Park), the Marlins twice (August 28 at Miami and Sept. 7 at home), and the Mets once (at home on Sept. 12)

Additionally, he’ll face the Giants on August 15, the Cardinals twice (Sept. 2 and Sept. 29), and the Dodgers once (Sept. 19).

That’s a lot of games against divisional opponents and winning baseball teams. The Nats need Strasburg to do well in each of these last several starts to keep their lead over the Braves in the National League East.

After the Limit is reached, I remain confident that a rotation of Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and Detwiler will be enough to get the Nats through a 5 or 7 game series. But until that day, I will be watching nervously.