When it came to issuing season predictions on the Washington Nationals, almost every preview noted that ace Stephen Strasburg would be limited to just 160 innings before being shut down for the season.
It was a total that was repeated so many times that it became fact in the search engines of the Internet, a scarlet number branded into a wonderful right arm recently repaired by Tommy John surgery.
But while bloggers like yours truly allowed the number to dictate our early prognostications, my old Kansas City Star co-worker — Brad Doolittle of Baseball Prospectus — wondered how GM Mike Rizzo, manager Davey Johnson and the Nats had settled on that one specific number.
Brad wondered about it so much that when he recently saw Rizzo at Wrigley Field, he asked about the method that led to 160 innings. What he was immediately told was that 160 innings is far from a hard cap for Strasburg. The number didn't even come from the Nats, Rizzo said.
From Baseball Prospectus (subscription required):
"Look, the media put (the 160-innings limit) out there, not me." Rizzo said. "It probably comes from what Jordan Zimmermann pitched last year.
"I don't have a specific pitch count in my mind, a specific innings count in my mind. I am going to refer to my experience as a farm director, as a player development guy, and knowing his body. In conjunction with Davey Johnson and (pitching coach) Steve McCatty, when we feel he's had enough, we're going to shut him down."
I was a little skeptical about Rizzo's claim about not floating the number, but a little research reveals him to be an honest man. The earliest reference to 160 innings I can find is from a Washington Post blog post on Feb. 20. In this specific finding, it appears to be the result of some back-of-the-envelope math that Adam Kilgore did after learning that Strasburg would be on a short leash in his first full season after returning from surgery.
Asked about the innings limit, Strasburg said he had not even been told what exact number he would have to throw. But the Nationals will most likely put the number around 160, the same as Jordan Zimmermann had last year in his first full season back from the surgery.
To be clear, Rizzo has always acknowledged — then and now — that there will come a time when Strasburg will be removed from the rotation. But what this revelation does is take away the "countdown" aspect to Strasburg's 2012. The situation will remain fluid, just like when Strasburg hit 100 pitches for the first time in his career on Wednesday and wasn't automatically removed from what ended up being a 4-0 win over the Mets.
What this means for the Nats season and any playoff aspirations is tough to say, of course. But at the very least we now know there's no reason to circle any possible end dates on Strasburg's calendar. It would seem that Rizzo sure hasn't.
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