Beyond the presidential race, Washingtonians are keeping a close eye on another race this summer -- the pennant race. Several days before the All-Star break, the Washington Nationals boast a 4.5 game lead in the National League East. The Nationals owe their surprising success to their outstanding pitching rotation led by young Stephen Strasburg.
This being Washington, of course, success hasn't come without controversy. Strasburg, who only recently returned from Tommy John elbow surgery, is on a strict innings count that will end his season in early September. As the final innings of Strasburg's season slip away, a debate has emerged among fans: Would the upside of pitching Strasburg longer outweigh the possible risk to his elbow?
Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell, the best pundit in a city of pundits, recently framed the debate as an issue of right versus wrong.
Perhaps the most important issue is the simplest: Exploiting Strasburg’s enthusiasm (and he’d pitch until he drops) is just plain wrong.
If the Nationals take such a callous risk with Strasburg, especially after saying they wouldn’t, everybody in baseball will take note. Sign with the Nats, or sign a contract extension as a Nats pitcher, and you know the team policy: If the stakes are high enough, you’re just red meat.
What team would risk the career of a pitcher who might someday stand with the greatest? What kind of club would stress to the max a pitcher who already may have a pitching delivery that works against the health of his arm? What wouldn’t such a team do?
Count me convinced. The short-term benefits for the team don't outweigh the long-term risk to a player whom baseball fans should hope enjoys a long and successful career.