A few of you have asked this week about Stephen Strasburg's prospective innings limit for 2012, and whether it would change if the Nationals wind up in a playoff race next year. The short answer: Don't count on it.
To this point, the Nationals have been exceedingly careful with Strasburg's workload, and whatever number they come up with for 2012 will likely be fairly rigid. The formula for how much Strasburg will do next year will come from some derivation of how much he pitched this year - 44 1/3 innings in the minors and majors, plus another six innings or so in simulated games in Viera, Fla.
I've tried to guess a little bit as to what the formula is, but if Jordan Zimmermann got 161 1/3 innings this year after logging 70 2/3 innings in the majors last year, plus simulated games in Florida, it's possible Strasburg will get less than 160 next year. It's almost certain he won't get more.
And as closely as Strasburg will be watched next year, it puts the Nationals in an odd spot. He's likely to be their top starter coming out of spring training, and could even start on opening day next April at Wrigley Field. But Strasburg and Zimmermann still probably aren't going to be the workhorses of the Nationals' rotation, which underscores again why the team wants to add another veteran pitcher this winter. If the Nationals are serious about contending next year, they'll almost have to get one, since they probably won't have Strasburg near the end of the year.
There might be some ways the Nationals can ration some of Strasburg's innings, but it's hard to imagine a schedule where he's still available for the grind of a pennant race in September, not to mention any postseason action in October. The team has been too resolute on these innings limits to expect otherwise.