The reins are starting to come off Strasburg

FLUSHING, N.Y. - For the first time in his professional career, Stephen Strasburg topped the 100-pitch mark today.

To the bulk of the baseball world, that’s a fairly major storyline. The Nationals, for the first time, really took the reins off their workhorse, their No. 1 starter, and let him throw 108 pitches over six innings in a 4-0 win over the Mets.

Strasburg has been handled delicately since being taken with the No. 1 pick in 2009, his innings and pitch totals carefully monitored and his starts often ending with the young flamethrower still having something left in the tank. Today, that wasn’t the case.

Why the change? Why didn’t manager Davey Johnson come get Strasburg in the sixth inning with his pitch count at 102 and the Mets having the go-ahead runner on base?

Davey Johnson talks about Stephen Strasburg’s start and letting him go over 100 pitches

“I’d have probably had to strangle him to get a hold of the ball,” Johnson joked. “I didn’t want to fight him on the mound.

“He’s just one of the guys now,” Johnson added. “I’m going to handle him just like he’s perfectly healthy and he had plenty left in the tank there.”

Even when it’s Strasburg on the mound, the 100-pitch limit apparently isn’t feared in the Nationals dugout like it is throughout much of the majors, to the point that pitching coach Steve McCatty said that pulling Strasburg when he reached the triple-digit mark wasn’t something that even popped into his head.

“I kind of thought out there, ‘Oh, here we go, he threw 100 pitches. Oh, it’s the miracle, it’s the finish line.’ It’s not,” McCatty said. “You throw your pitches. He’s healthy. I don’t really worry about that. Everybody makes a bigger deal about it than us. Still thought he was throwing pretty good when he went over 100 pitches, (wasn’t) he? I really wasn’t concerned about that. That’s not a milestone or a checkpoint that I look at - it’s 100 pitches, we’ve got to shut him down.”

This is a different philosophy than the one we’ve seen in the past, when Strasburg likely would have been yanked earlier than he was today. Strasburg’s previous career high in the pitch count department was 99, which he hit midway through his rookie campaign in 2010.

Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman monitored pitch counts more carefully and had a quicker hook with his starters when he saw those numbers rising. The current Nats staff, including Johnson and McCatty, chooses to focus more on what they see on the mound and the reactions of the hitters at the plate. If they feel a pitcher can still be effective, they’ll often give him the benefit of the doubt, despite what the box score might read.

Johnson clearly won’t be reckless with Strasburg’s pitch limit, saying that the righty is still young and won’t get pushed too hard early in the season, but McCatty seems to believe the Nats will give Strasburg some more wiggle room in games this season.

“I’m not saying that Riggleman’s wrong or whatever,” McCatty said. “I believe the pitcher’s got to throw pitches. You’ve got to get out there. If you’re going to start drawing benchmarks at 110, you’re setting yourself up for problems. One thing I always talk about, when you pitch, you watch swings. Read swings, read with your eyes. And when you sit there and watch him throw, you don’t look at the mark of 100, you see what you see.

“He’s throwing pretty good. And that’s what Davey does. So in that situation, there was never a thought of going out there and taking him out. Not on my part.”

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