Rizzo, the general manager of the franchise, has been adamant that he will keep star pitcher Stephen Strasburg to an innings limit this year, no matter how much the team needs his arm for a late-season push — or the playoffs.
Strasburg has been vocal about not wanting to be shut down early, even if it is his first season back from Tommy John surgery. But if Rizzo pulls the plug on Strasburg — likely in August or early September, seeing his inning totals so far — the young pitcher likely won't have much of a choice.
Or will he?
Former Braves pitcher John Smoltz, who had a good bit of craftiness in his pitches during a likely Hall of Fame career, had some interesting advice for Strasburg as the inning limit looms. Now an analyst for TBS, Smoltz said Strasburg can stick to the limit and still play late in the season — he just has to create a situation that will take him out of the game for a few starts right now.
"I'd create my own little gap," Smoltz told ESPN Radio's Scott Van Pelt. "I'd have a blister one day, maybe a hangnail the next start. You know, I think there's ways to do it. And I get it — their statement is every game counts. Well, it does, but it doesn't count as much as in September."
If Strasburg could miss those innings now, the Nationals would have no excuse to not use Strasburg in pivotal September play.
The Nationals are 52-36 heading into Wednesday's game, 3 1/2 games ahead of the Atlanta Braves (49-40) in the National League East. They play in arguably the toughest division in baseball, with the Mets (46-44) and Marlins (44-46) still within striking distance. But they're also in the battle for the league's two wild card spots, meaning they'll need every win they can get to hold off the many teams with decent records heading into the season's final months.
Strasburg, in his third season in Major League Baseball, is 10-4 with a 2.66 ERA. He has started 18 games and pitched 105 innings, striking out 135 batters and allowing just 87 hits and 29 walks.
While Rizzo has not said what Strasburg's innings limit is, most guess it's between 150 and 170.
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