Stephen Strasburg left little doubt that he still disagrees with the Nationals’ decision to shut him down for the season. Regardless of whether the plan was accelerated - the Nats pulled the plug on his 2012 season Saturday, even though they had previously announced he would make his final start Wednesday at Citi Field against the Mets - or not, the idea of sitting while his team continues to play leaves a sour taste in the ace’s mouth.
“I don’t know if I’m ever going to accept it, to be honest,” Strasburg said after the Nats’ 7-6, 10-inning victory over the Marlins on Saturday. “It’s something that I’m not happy about at all. That’s not why I play the game. I play the game to obviously be a good teammate and win. You don’t grow up dreaming of playing in the big leagues to get shut down when the games start to matter. It’s going to be a tough one to swallow. But, like I said, all I can do is be the best teammate possible to these guys and I think everybody overlooks all the other great contributions we’ve had this year. I know they’re going to keep going on that way and do everything in my power to support them.”
Strasburg met with manager Davey Johnson before Saturday’s game and was told his season was over. The right-hander said the news came out of the blue, considering the plans that had already been laid out for him - a strict innings limit, announced in spring training, that would culminate with his final start Sept. 12.
“I thought I had another start,” Strasburg said. “It was pretty shocking. Honestly, I’m not too happy about it. I want to keep pitching out there. But as of right now, I think we’ve got some world-renowned doctors and one of them, Dr. (Lewis) Yocum, he resurrected my career, so I got to listen to him and I got to trust him.”
Did Strasburg voice a dissenting opinion in hopes of getting another start - or more?
“I talked to them about it and they seemed pretty firm,” he said. “It’s just not about me, it’s not about one player. I think the best thing I can do right now is move forward and be the best teammate I can.”
During a brief session with reporters in the Nationals clubhouse, Strasburg wavered between begrudgingly spouting the company line and bristling at a few questions that he felt were inappropriate.
Earlier Saturday, Johnson had referenced an open letter by longtime major league pitcher and current broadcaster Jim Kaat that pleaded for Strasburg to take a hard-line stance with the Nationals that he wasn’t ready to stop pitching. When asked if he’d read the Kaat letter, Strasburg tersely replied, “Who cares about that? Everybody’s got something to say.”
When he was asked to give an assessment of his season - a 15-6 record with a 3.16 ERA in 28 starts, with 48 walks and 197 strikeouts in 159 1/3 innings - Strasburg cut the questioner off, saying, “You tell me. Does that sound pretty good? OK.”
Johnson claimed Saturday that the intense media scrutiny around the team’s plan to shut down its ace in the middle of a pennant race was getting to Strasburg, weighing on him mentally and becoming a distraction to the rest of the clubhouse. Strasburg acknowledged that he’d been affected by the media frenzy for a lot longer than the week Johnson referenced.
“It’s hard not to let it bother you,” Strasburg said. “I was doing everything in my power the whole year trying to go out there and help this team win some games. I felt like, for the most part, I accomplished that. Like I said, it is what it is. It sucks. I just got to move forward.”
While his manager pointed to mental fatigue as a reason for short-circuiting the right-hander’s campaign, and general manager Mike Rizzo said that the pitcher’s mechanics were starting to show signs of wear in his first full season following Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, Strasburg continued to stress that he was physically able to pitch.
“I feel physically great,” he said. “That’s the thing. ... But it’s not just about one player and they want me to be here for many years to come, so I think it’s an unfortunate sitaution. It;s a lot harder situation because we won this year. I don’t think anybody’d be talking about it if we were just finishing out the year in September. But I want to be here for the long haul, I want to be here for many years to come.”
Though he knew the shutdown would one day come, no matter how well he pitched or how much he argued against it, Strasburg said he wound up trying to ignore the eventuality of the situation.
“I think the easiest way of dealing with it is I just looked the other way, he said. “I didn’t really worry about it. I was always thinking things were going to change, there was always going to be something that would change and that I would get the opporutnity. But this is a decision they made well before the start of the year and I play for the Washington Nationals. I play to help this team win games and that’s the bottom line. I’m not the one making the calls.”