Tuesday, Stephen Strasburg pitched five solid innings in a spring-training start against the New York Mets. Wednesday, Strasburg was anointed the Washington Nationals' Opening Day starter against the Chicago Cubs. This move isn't surprising, and apparently had been the plan for months. Still, considering that Strasburg pitched only 24 innings in the majors last season after recovering from Tommy John surgery, it's news.
From Adam Kilgore (via The Washington Post):
Pitching coach Steve McCatty delivered the news to Strasburg this morning. Johnson had come to the decision back in the winter, and "it was easy," Johnson said. Strasburg will be limited to 160 innings this year, but Johnson never considered delaying Strasburg’s start to stretch out his season.
"I like to put my best foot forward from the get-go," Johnson said. "It’s not about Stephen Strasburg. It’s about the Washington Nationals. I’m going to put our best foot forward every step of the way.
"Everything in my baseball mind says pitch him where he belongs to pitch. And if you’ve got to shut him down, shut him down. End of story."
It's hard to argue with Johnson's logic. But it's going to be mighty uncomfortable for him in September and possibly October, if the Nationals are still playing meaningful games and his best pitcher isn't available. There is some reason to believe Strasburg will be one of the best pitchers in the National League. Last year, the best pitcher in the National League (Roy Halladay) threw 250 innings, including October; the best pitcher in the American League (Justin Verlander) threw 271 innings.
So 160 innings seems like not a lot.
It seems likely (to me) that 160 is an arbitrary number, little different from 150 or 170 or even 180 innings. But 100 pitches is an arbitrary number, too, and it's gained the tinge of gospel in the major leagues.
In his 24 innings, spread over five starts last season, Strasburg posted a 1.50 ERA with 24 strikeouts and two walks. He might threw only 160 innings this season. But they figure to be 160 hellacious innings.