File photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg never made it to the mound tonight due to a stiff shoulder.
Many in the crowd booed.
"Imagine, if you go there to see Miss Universe and you end up having Miss Iowa, you might get those kind of boos," Batista said in perhaps the one-liner of the year. "But it's OK. They had to understand that as an organization we have to make sure the kid is fine."
That was the prevailing sentiment at the end of the night. Whether Strasburg is seriously injured or not -- and initial signs point to it being nothing more than some shoulder inflammation -- the Nationals intend to take the cautious route with their $15.1 million investment.
Which means there's a very real possibility he's thrown his last pitch of the season.
Mike Rizzo wouldn't make any declarations like that after tonight's game -- which, it should be noted, featured fabulous performances by Miguel Batista, Sean Burnett, Drew Storen, Matt Capps, Nyjer Morgan and Ian Desmond that resulted in a 3-0 victory -- but the general manager did seem to suggest he's not going to take any chances here.
"I want to see where he's at tomorrow," Rizzo said. "We're not going to eliminate anything. But we're going to be cautious with him."
It's hard to imagine Strasburg showing up tomorrow feeling fine and dandy, ready to fire up 100 mph fastballs in the bullpen. At best, it'll probably be several days before he's capable of that. Which probably puts his next scheduled start (Sunday against the Phillies) in jeopardy. Which raises the question of whether Strasburg will return to pitch this season at all.
Think about it. If Strasburg can't start this weekend, he probably gets shut down and placed on the 15-day disabled list. As we've seen with other pitchers, even a two-week DL stint requires a resumption of a throwing program from scratch, and thus minor-league rehab starts. It's at least a month, maybe longer, until the pitcher is ready to return to the majors. (Just look at Scott Olsen.)
Rizzo insisted he wouldn't have a problem shutting Strasburg down briefly and bringing him back before season's end.
"We're going to play that by ear, take it on a day-by-day basis," the GM said. "Depending on what time of the season we'd shut him down, we'd certainly crank him back up and pitch him again when he feels 100 percent."
But does a late-August or early-September return really make sense? Why risk anything else happening at that point?
Few would fault Rizzo if he elects to declare Strasburg's season over right now. Sure, there will be some fans upset they've already bought tickets to potential Strasburg starts and now will be stuck with -- as Batista brilliantly referred to himself -- Miss Iowa. But fans have known all along there were no guarantees with Strasburg. The caveats have been stated repeatedly since June: "Subject to change based on weather or injuries."
"A lot of people come to see Stephen Strasburg pitch and are disappointed in the fact they're not going to be able to see him," Rizzo said. "But unfortunately, I can't worry about that. I need to worry about the longevity of the pitcher and what's good for the franchise."
Even opposing players understand the situation the Nationals now find themselves.
"For him not to pitch was a little disappointing, but I applaud what the Nationals did because that's their franchise for the next 15 years," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "If he wakes up with a hangnail, I'm holding him out. I want to protect my investment, protect that arm for the next 20 years. Because as he goes, they're going to go."
That's right. If the Nationals are going to have any chance of winning in the next few seasons, Strasburg is going to have to play a major role.
They're obviously not winning anything this year. Why risk damaging your chances in 2011 and beyond just to see if he can return in 2010?
This was an unexpected development in an otherwise fairytale season for the most-hyped rookie baseball has ever seen. And it's a potentially crushing development for fans and for a franchise that struck gold with this kid.
But if the decision comes down to letting Strasburg return to pitch a few more times in 2010 or waiting until 2011 to bring him back, it would be hard to fault Rizzo and the Nationals for sticking with the cautious route.