Nats ponder pitching move as date draws near to shut down Strasburg

It might surprise you to read the Washington Nationals – National League leaders in team ERA and starters' ERA – would be in the market for a starting pitcher, but there is the matter of Stephen Strasburg.

After years of scouting and spending and developing, the Nats have a staff to be proud of, one that could carry them into the playoffs and get something done once there. Except Strasburg will have to go home early per doctor's orders following his 2010 Tommy John surgery that cost him nearly all of last season.

So, the Nats will troll for a veteran starter of some pedigree, someone along the lines of Kevin Millwood or Francisco Liriano, unless the cost of the top-end guys comes down. They might even be better off waiting until August, as there will be more pitchers available as the fringe teams drop out.

Barring an injury to a Nats starter or two, there would seem to be no rush to make a move.

Meantime, Strasburg, the Nats and general manager Mike Rizzo deal with the original decision to shut down Strasburg after about 160 innings, which, by the way, is neither "original" nor their "decision."

Dr. Lewis Yocum rebuilt Strasburg's right elbow two Septembers ago, laid out the recovery and rehabilitation, and then the plan to pitch Strasburg moving away from surgery. It's a strategy formed from thousands of case studies over many years. One of those, in fact, belongs to Nats right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, who blew out his elbow, had the surgery, sat out a year, pitched 161 ⅓ innings last year and is having his best professional season in 2012.

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At his current pace, Strasburg should reach the 160-inning mark around the first week of September.

So, while it may be terribly disappointing to Nats fans – and even Strasburg teammates – to lose a co-ace during the franchise's most promising season since moving to D.C., this is nothing more than the life cycle of Tommy John surgery. This is, Yocum told the Nats and Strasburg, what works in the long run.

Scott Boras, Strasburg's agent, was involved in most or all of those conversations and approves of the plan in spite of his client's recent statement that the club would have to "rip" the ball out of his hands come September.

"Everyone knows Stras wants to pitch every inning he can," Boras said. "And if they get in the playoffs, who wouldn't want to pitch in the playoffs?"

Still, Boras said, "There is evidence as to how these programs should work within a range. When you operate contrary to that evidence, as an employer you would put yourself in a difficult position.

"All of this, including this year's plan, is the product of expert medical opinion, of which Mike Rizzo has taken that information and applied it appropriately. To not follow the expert medical opinion would be something certainly a doctor would put out to his patient, a lawyer would put out to his client, and an employer would put out to his employee. But that doesn't change the will of the player to want to perform."

Boras made one more point, that Strasburg the pitcher is worth $30 million a season, he said, "in free-agent value," and that Strasburg is under club control for another 4 ½ seasons at far less. It would be beyond reckless, he said, to ignore Yocum's counsel and risk Strasburg's future for another 30 or 40 innings, no matter the standings.

"I'm supportive," Boras said, "of any team that follows expert medical opinion."

And then …

The Texas Rangers are staying on top of the pitching market at the trading deadline and are prepared to engage on Cole Hamels, Ryan Dempster and Zack Greinke if the need arises or the prices drop. As of Thursday, however, the Rangers are more likely to upgrade their bench and – for one summer, anyway – leave the bigger moves to other clubs.

Clubs are becoming curious about what the Miami Marlins have in mind approaching the deadline. Not only has the team been disappointing on the field, but ranks 12th in the NL in attendance. Reports that the Marlins could move some of their best players – Josh Johnson, Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez – is the subject of a seemingly daily media debate. One thing for certain, Jeffrey Loria can't be pleased. Following Thursday's game in Chicago and three in Pittsburgh over the weekend, the Marlins play 14 of 17 games in the NL East.

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Torii Hunter, in the final months of his five-year, $90-million deal with the Los Angeles Angels, told the Los Angeles Times he'd take a pay cut to return to the club next season. If the Angels don't want him, he told the paper, he'd like to play for the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers or Rangers.

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