GM Rizzo will keep Strasburg on innings limit, postseason or not

The Nationals media has reported for months now that Stephen Strasburg is on an innings limit this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2010. It's believed to be about 160 innings.

There was a theory, however, that the decision to shut Strasburg down would be flexible and could be influenced by the Nationals' postseason status.

Nats GM Mike Rizzo dispelled that notion Wednesday evening on Sirius XM's MLB Network Radio.

While being interviewed by hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern, Rizzo was very clear and decisive about the plan to shut Strasburg down. Here are some excerpts from that interview:

Casey Stern: "Regardless of what's happening in the standings, if he (Strasburg) hits the number, whether it be August 15 or September 17, and he's done, then he's not pitching in the postseason? He's done and you won't change that at a later date?"

Rizzo: "I think that's an accurate assessment, yes."

That's pretty cut and dried, which I find strange. While Strasburg is a huge investment/commodity and the club needs to protect his arm for years beyond 2012, it's still a bit early to be so definitive.

Rizzo would not say what the innings limit was, but he did say there's no way they'd let Strasburg pitch 200 innings in 2012, so we know it's less than that.

It sounds as if Rizzo doesn't have an exact number at this point.

"We're going to monitor each and every start," Rizzo said. "We're going to monitor how we utilize him. Davey (Johnson) is under no instruction of a pitch limit, a pitch count, an innings limit per game. We're going to utilize him and when we feel he's reached his limit, we're going to shut him down."

It looks like the plan is to let the 2009 No. 1 draft pick rip and when he shows signs of fading, shut him down.

What if that happens and five days later the Nationals have to play a one-game playoff for the division? Would the plan be etched in stone?

Could the Nats allow Strasburg to pitch in the postseason if they skip some of his regular season starts? Rizzo told MLB Network Radio "no."

"We don't want to interrupt his (Davey Johnson's) rotation," Rizzo said. "He's a very monitored person. He wants everything in its place, so we don't want to really jumble up his schedule and get him out of his rotation."

In that MLB Radio interview, Rizzo said after Strasburg is shut down he'd "hope" the pitching depth would carry them through a postseason run.

A few hours later in a MASN interview during the Nats-Astros game broadcast, he said Jordan Zimmermann "has No. 1 stuff on other ball clubs" and that "Gio Gonzalez can be a strong No. 2 on any club in baseball."

There's no question the Nats starting pitching has been stellar. They have the best ERA in the league, but embarking on the franchise's first playoff run without its ace will be a tough decision to stick by - especially if Strasburg says he feels fine.

It's a tough call, and I'm glad I'm not Rizzo, but rather than make the decision right now, I'd wait and see how the season goes. It might be a moot point if the Nats aren't in the playoff hunt, but you can bet it will be the talk of baseball if they are.