The Nationals purposely told Stephen Strasburg as little as possible all season about their plan to prematurely shut him down -- aside from the fact they would shut him down at some point -- to keep the right-hander from thinking too much about how many innings he had left in his arm before the inevitable end.
Now that the end has nearly arrived, team officials understood it was time to have the conversation they had delayed to this point.
So Strasburg sat down this morning with general manager Mike Rizzo, manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty and was told in no uncertain terms he'll be shut down after two more starts (scheduled to take place Friday against the Marlins at Nationals Park and Sept. 12 against the Mets in New York).
Strasburg voiced his desire to continue pitching beyond the 170 innings or so he'll be held to, according to Johnson, but ultimately will accept the organization's decision.
"It's no secret that Stras is an intense competitor, wants to be here, wants to be contributing, wants to be helping," Johnson said. "And I'm sure it's probably eating him up more than anybody involved in this whole thing, because he wants to be here and help his teammates. He's worked harder than anybody coming back from Tommy John surgery, and this is what you dream about being a part of. I know how he feels."
Does Strasburg -- who tossed six scoreless innings yesterday to lower his ERA to 2.95 while raising his league-leading strikeout total to 195 -- understand what the Nationals are trying to do?
"Probably not," Johnson said. "I'm not sure any of us understand, but it's the right thing to do. The way I look at things, I don't think the job the Lerners and the front office have done building this organization, I don't look at this as the only chance you're going to get to be in the postseason or be in the World Series. This team wasn't just piece-mealed together for one year. It's built to last. And we're trying to make sure it lasts."
He may not agree with the decision, but Strasburg has known all along he wouldn't be allowed to finish the season on the mound. He said Sunday he won't abandon his teammates down the stretch, though, and will support them from the dugout.
"I'm in with these guys," he said. "We still have a long way to go. I'm going to fight with them to the end."
Johnson has heard all the criticisms from across the baseball -- and sometimes other sports -- world but insists the Nationals ultimately know what's best for their young ace and that he has properly used him all season.
"He's not a No. 5 starter. He's a No. 1 starter," Johnson said. "It's more detrimental and more haphazard to miss a start, push him back, push him back. That's more dangerous for the health of a pitcher. This is his first full year in the big leagues. It's a big increase in innings. There's tons of records to validate this decision."