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Nats 2nd half storylines: Strasburg's shutdown

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Nats 2nd half storylines: Strasburg's shutdown

The Nationals open tomorrow what promises to be the most compelling second half to a season since the franchise arrived in town in 2005, owners of the NL's best record but saddled with several major questions that need to be answered.Today we're counting down the five most significant storylines to the remainder of the Nationals' season. Next up is storyline No. 2: The club's plan to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg before season's end...
It's been hovering over the Nationals since at least the first day of spring training. Perhaps since the offseason. And perhaps since all the way back in September 2011, when the Nats shut down Jordan Zimmermann at 161 13 innings in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery and suggested they would do the same with Stephen Strasburg in 2012.

And we're getting closer to it becoming reality.

Are the Nationals really going to shut down their ace with several weeks remaining in a pennant race, then prevent him from pitching in the postseason if they reach it?

Yep, that's been Mike Rizzo's plan from the beginning, and he continues to stick to it.

The rationale: The Nationals, as an organization, don't believe in letting young pitchers exceed their previous seasons' innings totals by more than 30 percent or so. This is especially true for young pitchers coming back from major injuries like the torn elbow ligament that Zimmermann suffered in 2009 and Strasburg suffered in 2010.

Strasburg who turns 24 later this month, has never thrown more than 123 innings in a professional season. A 30 percent increase over that total would bring him to 160 innings, which is roughly the number the Nationals are expected to limit the right-hander to this season.

Strasburg has already thrown 100 innings (counting his one inning of relief in Tuesday's All-Star Game). Which means he's probably got about 10 more starts at his disposal before the shutdown occurs sometime in early September.

Because of a couple of off-days built into the late-season schedule, the Nationals might only need to fill Strasburg's rotation spot four times (obviously more if they reach the postseason). But that won't diminish the uproar that will occur around baseball if they indeed stick to their plan and sideline their best pitcher down the stretch.

Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson's ability to explain their rationale and justify their decision -- to fans, media, the baseball world and even their own players -- might be their toughest task.

They're committed to shutting down Strasburg. But can they convey their reasons for doing so in a manner that convinces everyone else to commit to the plan as well?

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Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the first former Nationals player (2005-present) to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, marking the 52nd first-ballot hall of famer in history. 

Rodriguez, who was the first free agent signed by current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, played the final two seasons of his career with Washington in 2010-11. During his time in D.C. he hit .254 six homers and 68 RBI. Pudge's greatest contribution to the Nationals came from his leadership and work ethic. He guided Stephen Strasburg through his rookie season and also helped develop Wilson Ramos so he could pass the torch to him. 

During his 21-year career, Pudge made 14 all-star teams, won 13 gold gloves, won seven silver slugger awards, led his league in caught-steeling percentage nine times, and was named American League MVP in 1999 with the Texas Rangers. He became a World Series champion in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Pudge's 13 gold gloves are the most ever by a catcher, and his 2,844 career hits are the most ever by a player who appeared in 50 percent or more of their career games as a catcher.  

In addition to Rodriguez, former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines was inducted to the Hall of Fame. Raines is the franchise leader (Expos/Nationals) in walks (793), runs (947), stolen bases (635) and triples (82). Raines was an all-star seven times and he won a silver slugger in 1986 with the Expos. He is the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 homers and 600 RBI in a career, and the only player to steal at least 70 bases in six consecutive seasons. 

Related: Bryce Harper wants Nationals to spend money on players, not team store

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Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper isn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The Nationals slugger is outspoken about what he wants, whether that's to "Make Baseball Fun Again" or to make at least $400 million on his next contract

On Wednesday, he gave his take on how the Nats should be investing their money this summer. Here's Harper responding to a tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Harper's message: Players over everything else. Sorry, gift shop. 

It's plain to see where the 2015 NL MVP is going with this. Obviously, he wants as much talent around him as possible for a chance to win the World Series. 

Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star catcher, and Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer, could be significant additions to Washington's roster. 

Harper is set to become a free agent in 2018, at which point an organization like the New York Yankees will be prepared to offer him both a massive salary and a massive investment in the players around him.

The slugger probably hopes his current team will try to surround him with winning pieces in an effort to keep him. But if a report about the Nationals' reaction to his contract demands proves accurate, they may have another agenda. 

There's Harper drama around the Nationals? Just a regular Wednesday here in Washington.

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals avoid arbitration with Harper, three others