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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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Former Nationals outfielder admits to drinking vodka before MLB games

Former Nationals outfielder admits to drinking vodka before MLB games

When it comes to sports, we sometimes forget that the athletes we look up to are just normal people.  Normal people who have a lot to prove to millions of people on a weekly basis.  Former Nationals outfielder Rick Ankiel has discussed one his human moments in an interview with 590 The Fan in St. Louis.

Ankiel admitted to drinking vodka during his plight as a pitcher. He referenced his first two starts of the 2001 season, in particular against the his opener Arizona Diamondbacks where he allowed his anxiety to giving in to alcohol to soothe him. In the previous postseason, he became the first pitcher since 1980 to throw five wild pitches in a single inning. 

It may have worked for a couple of games but Ankiel eventually realized it was only making matters worse.

Ankiel began playing in the MLB at the age of 19 and has had a fluctuating career through six teams.  All the while, he has keep a “never give up” mentality.

Why the sudden need to vent? The St. Louis baseball pitcher is getting up close and personal with his upcoming book, “The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed my Life” which is co-written with sports writer, Tim Brown will be released on April 18.  

His two seasons with the Nationals, resulted in 127 hits and 52 RBIs as an outfielder. 

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Nationals sign former Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters

Nationals sign former Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters

The Washington Nationals have signed former Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters to a one-year deal with a player option for a second year, according to multiple reports. 

Wieters spent the first eight years in the Majors with the Baltimore Orioles, being named to the AL All-Star team four times and winning two gold glove awards. Last season the switch-hitting catcher posted a .243 average with 17 homers and 66 RBI.  

The Nationals have been in the market for catchers all offseason after Wilson Ramos left for Tampa Bay in free agency. The team traded for former Padres catcher Derek Norris, whose role is now in question. The Nationals still have Jose Lobaton on the roster as a strong defensive backup catcher who has a proven rapport with many of the pitchers in the Nationals rotation. Wieters had been linked to the Nationals all offseason because of the team's need a the position and because of the Nationals close relationship with Wieters' agent Scott Boras. 

The only significant time that Wieters has missed due to injury in his career came in 2014-15 when he had Tommy John surgury. Prior to that surgury, however, Wieters had played in at least 130 games for four straight seasons and became a large part of the Orioles' identity. 

The 30-year-old backstop will give the Nationals lineup more depth and power. Wieters had three consecutive 20-homer seasons from 2011-13 and since 2009 when his career began, he ranks fifth among catchers in all of baseball in home runs with 117. 

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