The Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals in 2005. Since then, Nationals starters have posted the second-worst ERA in the National League, and the very worst FIP. When one has thought about the Washington Nationals, one hasn't really thought about them being rich in starting pitching. But in 2012, they're going to be rich in starting pitching. They have Stephen Strasburg. They have Jordan Zimmermann. They have Gio Gonzalez, and they have Edwin Jackson, and they have John Lannan, and they have Chien-Ming Wang. The 2012 Nationals have a lot of starters. A lot of those starters are good.
Because the Nationals have such a good pitching staff, there are people talking about the team as a potential contender. But because one of those pitchers is still recovering from surgery, the Nationals might have to do without him for a spell in September:
Strasburg will be shut down after 160 innings this year even if the Nationals are in a heated pennant race. Protection first with him— Tim Kurkjian (@Kurkjian_ESPN) February 24, 2012
Strasburg had Tommy John surgery in August 2010. Because of the surgery, he was limited to 11 appearances in 2011. Because he was limited to 11 appearances in 2011, he'll be limited again in 2012. No matter the circumstances.
Or so they say. The Nationals can say what they want about protecting Strasburg now, when the idea of contention is a fantasy, but should it become a reality, there'll be nothing binding the Nationals to their words. The Nationals will be free to do whatever they want. The likelihood is that they will give Strasburg a cap, but if they're charging for the playoffs, well, minds change as situations change. Rationalizations can be made.
The Strasburg news comes around the same time we heard this out of Tampa Bay:
Friedman said rookie LHP Matt Moore's innings will be watched but don't have to be limited because he's been "built up in a pretty systematic way" in the minors.
Moore's 22, but he's not being given a limit, because he hasn't had surgery. Here's how Moore's innings totals have progressed:
Pretty steady, pretty clean. Moore pitched into October last season without any problem, and he should be good for 200 frames, provided the performance is there, which it ought to be.
The Nationals would've liked to have Strasburg built up by now, but the surgery threw a wrench into the works. In the long run, he should be fine - Tommy John these days is about as routine as getting your ankle wrapped - but it's a short-term inconvenience. He still has his stuff, but the Nationals won't want to put too many innings on an arm that hasn't recently thrown all that many innings.
Unless the playoffs are in sight. And Strasburg is still pitching well. Then, you know, maybe they'll re-evaluate, because they'll have every reason to re-evaluate. But for now, there's a limit, and it seems the sensible thing to do. All right, glad we discussed this.