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Is Stephen Strasburg Facing Unnecessary Limits?

Life is full of limits. We drive and obey speed limits. Presidents win an election and face term limits (maybe this should apply to Congress, too). Homeowners add extensions to their house and deal with zoning limits.

In baseball, pitchers are usually the ones facing limits, of the pitch count and innings variety. Pitch counts are all the rage these days, with every pitcher’s throws meticulously counted by his manager (looking to protect a team’s investment) and the media (looking to place blame when a pitcher gets hurt).

But some teams face a potentially more difficult challenge with their young pitchers. Teams invest millions into these flamethrowers, praying that every muscle, fiber and joint stays in place on every pitch thrown. If they could, teams would lock their best pitchers up in boxes full of packing peanuts, safe and sound.

Enter the surprising Washington Nationals, currently sitting in first place in the National League East. The Nats’ roster is flooded with young talent, from Bryce Harper to Stephen Strasburg, both recent Number One overall selections in baseball’s draft. Strasburg, who uncorks his wiry arm at an unusual angle, debuted in 2010 and missed most of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. This year, Strasburg is 8-1 with a 2.45 ERA, the first to 100 strikeouts in baseball.

Although he is currently leading the Nationals’ drive to the playoffs, he may not be around to pitch in (pun intended) toward the end of the season (and no, I’m not threatening violence here).

That’s because the Nationals have implemented an innings limit on Strasburg – no specific number has been assigned, but the team’s general manager has indicated it will be 200 or fewer (he’s at 77 now). Despite the team’s best intentions, this strategy is being questioned, seeing as how Strasburg is an integral part of the team’s success. The questions will grow more difficult as the season progresses, but for now, Strasburg shoulders on, with his next start being tonight.

So, what’s the best course of action? That decision obviously rests with the higher-ups in Washington, but it seems silly to announce an innings limit at this point in the season, well before the All-Star break. Of course a team should protect its star pitcher, but shouldn’t it also monitor his health and arm strength as the year progresses, getting Strasburg’s opinion along the way? I agree that trading this season for a healthy Strasburg over a full career isn’t a worthwhile swap, but no one can predict how Strasburg will feel or perform three weeks from now, let alone three months.

For now, let’s relax on the limits.


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