Thoughts on Strasburg, and Around the League

Stephen Strasburg claimed his first win of the year yesterday, a 4-0 victory over Johan Santana and the Mets. It was notable for him personally because for the 1st time in his young career the righty was allowed to exceed 100 pitches, throwing 108 with 63 going for strikes. Strasburg was superb over those 108 pitches, allowing only 2 hits and 3 walks while striking out 9 in 6 innings. The Nationals have won both of his starts so far, and the young right-hander has looked every bit like an ace.

Strasburg has compiled 13 innings, allowing 7 hits, 4 walks, and 1 earned run, while striking out 14. If he continues to dominate, Washington will pick up a lot of wins and stay competitive in what is shaping up to be a brutal division. Strasburg hasn’t fully hit his stride yet either. His location has been a bit spotty in both of his starts, and as he finds his rhythm as the season continues, the big ace should only get better. As you can see in this chart below, (provided from BrooksBaseball.net) Strasburg was a little erratic with his location against the Mets, and even so, he still only allowed 1 run. He’s going to dominate once he locates a bit better, so expect at least 3 games where he strikes out more than 10 batters.

The only problem is that the Nationals have already announced an innings limit on the ace, as they plan to end his season after 160 innings. Strasburg is now 19 months removed from Tommy John surgery and is still just 23-years-old, so Washington’s conservative plan isn’t a terrible one, but it may need to be altered.

Washington could consider skipping Strasburg in the rotation a couple of times over the next 2 months, thus reducing his work load going forward and keeping him available later in the season. This course of action could have some unintended consequences, such as getting away from a steady throwing routine as well as knocking Strasburg out of rhythm. Many pitchers like to take the ball every 5 days, while having 1 or 2 throw days in between, and some tend to struggle if given extended rest. Both Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia are on record with their disdain for extra rest, preferring to throw every 5 days.Another possible plan, if the Nationals are competitive down the stretch, would be to reevaluate the innings limit and up it by 20 or 30.

National’s GM Mike Rizzo has already said that neither of these would be an option “There’s not going to be a whole lot of tinkering going on. We’re going to run him out there until his innings are done … He’s a young pitcher that’s still learning how to pitch in the big leagues. I think it’s unfair to get him ramped up in spring training and start the season on a regular rotation and then shut him down or skip him. We’re just going to make him comfortable.” This could come back to hunt the Nationals, who appear to be a franchise who could contend for a playoff spot this season. It will also be interesting to see if Rizzo sticks to his word, if say, Washington is up 4 games in the NL East with a month to go when Strasburg, in the midst of a phenomenal season at that point, hits the innings limit wall. This story line will be an interesting one to watch play out.

Other thoughts:

-Tim Lincecum has been roughed up so far during the 2012 season, throwing only 7 innings while being rocked for 11 runs. The Freak had his worst start of his career last night in Colorado, lasting only 2.1, giving up 6 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks, striking out 3. He announced before the season that he was scrapping his slider, which has held true, as he has not thrown a single one. Throughout the course of his career he has thrown the pitch about 11% of the time (courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net). Lincecum claims that he doesn’t want to use it because it damages his arm, which is more than reasonable, but it may hurt his chances of success. He has been compensating by throwing his change-up and absurd 33% of the time. Timmy has always had one of the best change-ups in baseball, but the pitch loses its effectiveness if thrown more than its usual 19% of the time. Lincecum’s velocity has also been a bit down, which is normal for most pitchers in April, and his location has also been poor. If his velocity bumps up a mile or two per hour, and his normally stellar location return, everything will be all right in San Francisco.

-Amazing comeback by the Rays yesterday to get to Justin Verlander in the 9th inning, after being dominated by him all game long. Verlander is now 0-1, despite pitching 8+ innings in both of his starts, and is not having as good of fortune in the win column as he did in 2011. There is no quit in Tampa Bay, which is a feather in the cap to their manager Joe Maddon, for always getting his players to believe.

-Equilibrium has returned somewhat in the AL East, after the Yankees completed their sweep over the Orioles with a 6-4 extra innings win last night. Nick Swisher hit the game-winning 2-run homer in the 10th to give both teams identical 3-3 records. Elsewhere in the East, Toronto took the series from Boston, leaving the Red Sox at a miserable 1-5 to start the season. The Red Sox have played a tough schedule so far, and its not getting any easier any time soon. Boston’s next 3 series, all at Fenway: 4 against Tampa, 2 against Texas, and 3 against New York.

-Finally, Cincinnati managed to avoid the sweep to the red-hot St. Louis Cardinals, winning 4-3 behind Joey Votto’s 4-hit day. I will be in St. Louis this weekend to catch the Cardinals home opener against the Cubs with a most excellent friend, Patrick, and will have a post about it over the weekend.

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