Pop quiz hot shot...Your staff ace is a year removed from Tommy John surgery and you've set an innings limit on him. However, he's 10-4 with a 2.66 ERA and leads all of baseball with 135 strike-outs. Oh, and your team leads the division by 3.5 games over the Atlanta Braves.
What do you do?
WHAT DO YOU DO??!!
Well, that is exactly what the Washington Nationals have to ponder with Stephen Strasburg. Before the season began, the Nationals decided they would limit Strasburg to an 160 inning limit on the season. Their 23-year-old golden boy had only pitched in 5 games the year prior after undergoing Tommy John surgery and they weren't taking any chances.
However, the Nationals didn't take into consideration that they would be in first place this late in the season and have a distinct possibility of making the post season for the first time since 1981, when the franchise was still in Montreal. But that is exactly where they find themselves heading into play on July 18th and with Strasburg at the head of baseball's best pitching staff, the Nationals have exceeded many expectations on the season.
Unfortunately, Strasburg will take the mound on Friday against Atlanta having already thrown 105 innings over 18 starts. Now, if he continues on the pace of roughly 6 innings an outing, the Nationals will get about 10 more starts out of him. Now, if he pitches every fifth day, that will put Strasburg's last start of the season on Friday September 7th against the Marlins.
In other words, that leaves Washington without their ace for the final three weeks of the regular season and all of the playoffs if they make it and choose to stick to their guns.
The question is; should they?
The Nationals will get a boost in the coming weeks with the return of Jayson Werth, but regardless of the boon he brings to the club offensively, this is a team built on the arms of its pitching staff. If they choose to rest Strasburg, the Nationals will have to redefine themselves as a team, and at this stage of the season, it is hard to see that as a good idea.
When you are sniffing pay dirt, you cannot purposely handicap yourself, and that will be exactly what the Nationals would be doing.
As a baseball fan, I will never understand the need to limit pitchers to pitch counts and innings limits. Sure, we all want to have a solid investment, but they're players and they need to play to be worth anything.
And they certainly are not worth anything to anyone sitting on the bench.