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Insider

The effect of Operation Shutdown

8/31/2012

At the All-Star Game, a longtime star asked me, "Are the Nationals really going to do shut [Stephen] Strasburg down?"

I told him yes, they're really going to do it, and he was amazed by the decision, and talked about how he would have even more respect for them because of how much guts it would take to make this move.

It's almost official now. Davey Johnson met with Stephen Strasburg and told him he has a few more starts remaining, before Operation Shutdown is put into effect.

From Adam Kilgore's story:

    With September arriving this weekend and Strasburg sitting at 150 1/3 innings, the Nationals ace's season will end within a handful of starts. Johnson said he and the Nationals have "a pretty firm plan" in place for Strasburg's season to end.

    "He's probably got two or three," Johnson said. "I said something to him on the plane last night -- "You got a few more to go.' So he doesn't think going out there thinking that, 'This may be my last one.' And no, I'm not going to drag it out and give him seven days between starts, either."

    Johnson would not get any more specific than the "two or three" range. If Strasburg makes three more starts, his final outing would come Sept. 12 in New York against the Mets.

So in effect, Strasburg will miss either three or four starts at the end of this regular season, in addition to whatever innings he would have thrown in the postseason -- figure one or two per round. So, in the end, the Nationals are losing anywhere from 30 to 45 innings they would have had from one of the best pitchers in the majors.

Crippling?

Hardly.

Jordan Zimmermann is having an excellent season, with a 2.63 ERA in 26 starts, and if he doesn't get the ball in Game 1 or 2 of a postseason series, then it would go to Gio Gonzalez, who is 16-7. Edwin Jackson won last night, lowering his ERA to 3.53, and Ross Detwiler is perhaps one of the most underrated starters of this season, with a 3.32 ERA. The Nationals have the pitching to win, they have a good lineup, they play solid defense. Even without Strasburg, they may still go into the postseason as a solid pick to make it through the National League playoffs and have a shot at winning the World Series.

But are they a better team with Strasburg?

Of course.

General manager Mike Rizzo has done the right thing by standing in front of Strasburg and protecting him in this situation, by making it clear that this is the organization's decision and that Strasburg really has no vote, which is what Rizzo needs to do. Some fans, rival players and even teammates are asking how this can happen, and Rizzo has set himself up to take the responsibility for the choice and take the bullets for the pitcher.

But it's pretty clear, too, that Rizzo is going to be completely at the mercy of the results of Washington's final game of this season. If they win, then his choice will be lauded almost universally, and his willingness to preserve the pitcher's long-term interests over short-term gain (including his) will be praised.

If they lose their final game, however, Rizzo and the Nationals will be saturated by criticism, by Monday morning quarterbacks, because of this question: "Could the Nationals have won if Strasburg had been pitching?"

There will be no way to dispel that notion.

---

Jackson threw well Thursday and Bryce Harper mashed a home run to lift the Nationals to a big win. Harper's talent and temper battle for the upper hand.

From ESPN Stats & Information, how Jackson won:

A. Cardinals hitters were 0-for-8 with six strikeouts in at-bats ending with a slider.

B. He threw 65 of 123 pitches (52.8 percent) down in the zone or below. Cardinals hitters were 1-for-13 with seven strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch in that location, including 0-for-6 with the slider.

C. He induced a season-high 27 swings on pitches out of the strike zone. Cardinals hitters chased 12 of the 19 sliders out of the zone (63.2 percent), his highest percentage in a start this season with the pitch.

D. Cardinals hitters were 0-for-7 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending with a slider out of the zone.

Here's a look at players with the most HRs in a season at age 19 or younger (with a month to go in 2012):

Tony Conigliaro: 24

Mel Ott: 18

Ken Griffey Jr.: 16

Bryce Harper: 15

Roger Clemens has some surprises in store. Of course he does.

I'll say it again: There is absolutely no downside for either the Astros or Clemens. The team is an embarrassment, veering toward a 115-loss season, and while the failures have been exacerbated by the decision to cut their major league roster to the bone, one or two appearances by Clemens will have zero impact on how new owner Jim Crane will be perceived in Houston. And from Clemens' perspective, he backs up his Hall of Fame clock by five years, at a time when there's zero chance he'll get inducted because of his perceived link to performance-enhancing drugs. And he gets to pitch, and while he's not going to throw a shutout, he certainly has enough stuff to not humiliate himself; he could be effective. "Knowing Roger," said a longtime friend of Clemens, "nothing he would do on the mound would surprise me."

But is it a stunt? For sure, and nobody should pretend otherwise. It's Eddie Gaedel, just a little bigger.

The Astros were swept, again, and they're 40-91, with a record of 8-48 in their last 56 games.

• The Orioles won again, and now they're heading to New York with a chance to catch the Yankees. Randy Wolf chose the Orioles because he wants a chance to win, writes Dan Connolly. When's the last time that happened?

The Yankees are suddenly facing a key series in their own ballpark, as Peter Botte writes.

• Even with new money, the Padres will spend wisely, writes Jeff Sanders.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Letting Josh Hamilton walk may be better business for the Rangers, writes Evan Grant. I wrote this in April and it's worth repeating now: If the Rangers cannot sign Hamilton on terms comfortable to them, in the number of years on the deal, then they will let him walk away -- and their proposed length of guaranteed years is probably going to be a lot shorter than most assume.

2. September call-ups are a dumb tradition, writes Joel Sherman.

3. Today is an important day for some in the Pirates' organization.

4. There is talk of Chase Utley moving to third base.

5. Adam Wainwright wants to wait before continuing his contract talks.

Dings and dents

1. Joey Votto is on the verge of his return.

2. Jason Frasor is close to coming back.

By The Numbers

From ESPN Stats & Information

2: Games with 7 RBIs this season for Jonathan Lucroy, the first catcher to have multiple such games in a season.

8: Leadoff home runs by the Indians this season, most in the majors.

21: Swing-and-misses generated by Zach Britton, the most by an Orioles starter this season.

460: Distance (in feet) of Ryan Braun's home run, the longest home run hit at Wrigley Field this season.

NL East

Jimmy Rollins was benched, as Charlie Manuel tried to send a message.

• The Mets' four-game winning streak came to an end, writes Andrew Keh.

NL Central

Rafael Furcal got hurt, and the Cardinals' offense was shut down.

• The Brewers' bullpen was really bad, again.

NL West

Hunter Pence and the other Giants broke out the big lumber, wrecking the Astros.

Aubrey Huff is seeing some echoes of the 2010 Giants team in this 2012 version.

• The Dodgers lost again, drifting deeper into the standings; Don Mattingly called a team meeting.

• Ian Kennedy's command was much better.

AL East

• The Rays stumbled again, as Marc Topkin writes. The Rays are going to use a whole bunch of different people at first base, and it's clear that Carlos Pena's playing time is being reduced.

Carlos Villanueva had a really nice outing.

AL Central

• The Tigers lost yet another one-run game. The toothless Tigers were swept, writes Lynn Henning. Their series against the White Sox this weekend is absolutely crucial, and we've got the series finale on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball," with Justin Verlander pitching against Chris Sale.

• The White Sox had a rough series against the Orioles, but they have to put that behind them, as Daryl van Schouwen writes. Don Cooper has Chicago's young pitchers on a steady plane, writes David Haugh.

Jeremy Guthrie had another strong outing, and the Royals pulled off a sweep of Detroit.

• The Indians have completely fallen apart: They were swept by Oakland at home. Cleveland is 5-27 in its last 32 games, as Paul Hoynes writes.

• The Twins' Josh Willingham swung and missed, in defeat.

AL West

Jarrod Parker was "the man" as Oakland finished a sweep of the Indians.

• The Angels have picked themselves up, and they completed a sweep of the Red Sox. Chris Iannetta is not slowing down, writes Landon Hall.

From ESPN Stats & Information, how Zack Greinke won:

A. He threw 75 of 107 pitches (70.1 percent) on the outside part of the plate or further away, his highest percentage in a start this season. Red Sox hitters were 2-for-15 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch in that location.

B. Red Sox hitters were 1-for-12 in two-strike at-bats, including 0-for-7 on pitches away.

C. He threw just nine cutters, but Red Sox hitters were 0-for-6 with three strikeouts in at-bats ending with the pitch.

D. Red Sox hitters were 0-for-9 with men on base, including 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position.

• The Mariners rallied to close out a really good road trip.

Other stuff

• Fredi Gonzalez had a team meeting about 10 days ago and told the Braves players that they have done a good job putting the September 2011 collapse behind them. This year, David O'Brien writes, players say things are better.

• Ryan Zimmerman's season changed after a cortisone shot, writes Amanda Comak.

• A statue of Bob Uecker will be unveiled today.

• Two Reds present strong cases for the Cy Young Award, writes John Fay.

Geovany Soto has taken advantage of a fresh start, writes Drew Davison.

• The Marlins have pinned some hopes on their young pitchers.

Logan Morrison may be running out of chances with the Marlins.

• The Cubs' young players will continue to improve, says Billy Williams, in this Gordon Wittenmyer piece.

Miguel Montero doesn't expect changes in how catchers block the plate.

• The emergence of Josh Rutledge has been a silver lining for the Rockies, as Patrick Saunders writes.

• The Red Sox lost again. Incredibly, over the last 364 days, they are 69-90. Today is the one-year anniversary of the last time the Red Sox were good, writes Dan Shaughnessy.

• Vanderbilt lost its football season opener. I got a lot of tweets and some emails about a late call that went against the Commodores, but even if the flag had been thrown, Vanderbilt still needed to move the ball a long way to the end zone and score a touchdown, rather than a field goal, and nothing that happened in the second half should have made anyone think that was a sure thing.

And today will be better than yesterday.