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Nationals to shut down Stephen Strasburg before season's end

The Washington ace is in his first full season after Tommy John Surgery. The Nationals currently are in first place.

April 28, 2012|By Bill Shaikin
  • The Washington Nationals do not want to overwork starter Stephen Strasburg, who is playing in his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery.
The Washington Nationals do not want to overwork starter Stephen Strasburg,… (Chris Trotman / Getty Images )

Pennant fever,shutdown mode

The District of Columbia last played host to a postseason game in 1933, so fans in Washington are understandably giddy over their first-place Nationals.

The Philadelphia Phillies are creaky. The Miami Marlins are combustible. In the National League East, maybe this is the Nationals' year.

Yet the Nationals say they will shut down Stephen Strasburg before the end of the season, even if the team might need its ace to get to the playoffs. This is his first full season after Tommy John surgery. To the Nationals — and to their medical consultants — 200 innings might be too much, too soon.

"You have a five-year plan," said Scott Boras, the agent for Strasburg. "Do you want to take the risk of pitching that starter for a full season and not having him for the other four years?"

Maybe you do. There are no guarantees, as Albert Pujols and the Angels could tell you right about now. Strasburg could get injured again. Or he could win 20 games next year, and the Nationals could fall apart around him.

However, this is not a win-or-else season in Washington. The first franchise star, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, is 27. The four core starters — Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler — all are 26 or younger.

Outfielder Bryce Harper, perhaps baseball's best prospect, made his major league debut at Dodger Stadium on Saturday. Harper is 19.

And, as the Nationals look to sign free agents, Boras said players would note how the team put the long-term health of players like Strasburg and Zimmermann ahead of its short-term interest.

Zimmermann pitched 161 innings last year, his first full season after Tommy John surgery. He has a 1.33 earned-run average in his first four starts this season.

Crawford a fitin Dodger blue?

The coming free-agent market appears so bleak that the first order of business for the Dodgers' new owners should be signing outfielder Andre Ethier before he can hit the market this fall. Clayton Kershaw cannot hit free agency until the fall of 2014, but they ought to look at a long-term deal with their ace too.

The Dodgers do not appear a probable destination for Cole Hamels, expected to be the top pitcher in free agency. The minor league system has a deficit of talent, not a surplus, so a three-prospects-for-your-star trade appears unlikely too. The Dodgers' new owners might well import talent by flashing their new money to absorb contracts.

Could Carl Crawford fit? His $142-million contract with the Boston Red Sox has turned into an absolute disaster, in part because of elbow and wrist injuries. If he returns healthy and productive after the All-Star break, perhaps Crawford and the Red Sox both would want a fresh start.

Crawford's game — speed, gap hitting, good defense in left field — plays much better at Dodger Stadium than at Fenway Park. If the Red Sox paid off part of the contract and accepted some decent pitching in return, Crawford could join Matt Kemp and Ethier in the Dodgers outfield, batting second between Dee Gordon and Kemp.

The Dodgers ranked Jerry Sands and Trayvon Robinson as their top outfield prospects last season. They traded Robinson, who is batting .220 at triple-A Tacoma, and kept Sands, who is batting .185 at triple-A Albuquerque.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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