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Stephen Strasburg's magic number: 158 innings pitched

The question of where Stephen Strasburg will pitch this season has of course been a dominant storyline this spring training, and it seems the most likely outcome will be 15 starts in the minors, a mid-June call-up, and then he's in the majors to stay.

But what about how much Strasburg will pitch? Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman discussed the Nationals' policy of trying to protect young pitchers by using a system to limit innings. Their pitches will not exceed 120 percent of the number of innings they threw the previous year, whether that was in college, the majors, or the minors.

Last year Strasburg pitched 109 innings at San Diego State and 19 innings in the Arizona Fall League, a total of 128. He also participated in the Instructional League, so tack on another, say, five innings, to be conservative. Taking 120 percent of 132, then, Strasburg will throw no more than 158 innings this year between the majors and the minors. In the Nationals view, the leap from college to professional pitching will not have an impact in Strasburg's innings limit.

"When that umpire says, 'Play ball,' I know he was giving maximum effort," Riggleman said. "The elbow and shoulder doesn't know if it's in San Diego State or if it's in Washington, D.C. It's either aching or it's not aching. The number of innings that he had, do the math, 20 percent more would probably be a cap for the year, whether he spends some time in the minor leagues, some time in the major leagues, or all of it's in one or the other. It's going to be capped at some number, just as [John] Lannan, [Jordan] Zimmermann, [J.D.] Martin, those guys were last year."

The second name there shows how difficult it can be to protect young arms. Zimmermann had thrown 134 innings in 2008. In his 2009, Zimmermann threw 100 or more pitches in 10 of his 16 starts and never more than 109. Three times, the Nationals stopped him right at 100. They obviously had an idea of how much they wanted him to throw. And it didn't work. Zimmermann had Tommy John surgery after he threw 91 1/3 innings, and he is not going to pitch in the majors again until September at best.

How much young pitchers should throw may be the trickiest question in baseball. Nolan Ryan thinks they should pitch much more, and he's making the Texas Rangers pitching prospects throw and throw. There are plenty of ideas, and none of them have fully succeeded in eliminating injury from occurring by performing an unnatural act over and over again.

"We don't know," Riggleman said. "Guys get hurt, and especially if it's a young guy, you're going to end up answering for that. I know as an organization, we're glad we had those limits on Jordan Zimmermann, because he got hurt. If we didn't have those limits and he got hurt, we would be thinking, 'Well, did we do too much?' And we know we didn't do too much. He got hurt anyway.

"I don't if everybody who's gotten hurt, were they going to get hurt anyway? I don't know. I don't how Seaver and Jenkins and Gibson, I don't know how they did it. But one of the greatest ever, Sandy Koufax, he had to shut it down at 31 years old. Did he throw too much? I don't know. If they had Tommy John surgery at the time, he would have pitched a lot longer, I guess."

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 12, 2010; 11:55 AM ET
Categories:  Jim Riggleman , Stephen Strasburg  
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Next: Stephen Strasburg in Washington -- in April?


Will the Nats have proper spelling on their uniforms for all 162 games this year?

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | March 12, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

So does the ump not say "Play ball" before spring training games, or do those innings also count towards the innings total?

Posted by: TBCTBC | March 12, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Adam, we love you, we really do, but at what college do they teach that 128 + 5 = 132? :-)

Seriously, this is exactly the type of information many of us love to get and will add to our understanding of the Nationals season. Please keep doing what you are doing!

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | March 12, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Conservatively 2011 rotation looks to possibly be:

Strasburg, Lannan, Detwiler, Thompson, Marquis, [Mock/Martin/Martis/Zimmermann (recovered?)].

Long Relief: Stammen/Chico?
Setup/Closer: Severino, R Martin, Clippard, Storen.

Wang and Olsen are probably done and gone.
Last year for Marquis depending on who is on the way from AAA.

Posted by: periculum | March 12, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

So if my math is right (and generous), we could see SS get 5 starts at Potomac, 5 in Harrisburg and 5 in Syracuse (he might not need 15 minor league starts but think of the ticket sales in those 3 cities) then he should have enough innings left for 13-15 starts in the majors. Do you think the Nats have any inkling now to pull a David Price and just use him out of the bullpen to get his inning in (not that I am suggesting that just wondering if it is a possibility so he could spend more time with the big club actually pitching).

Posted by: markfd | March 12, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

performing an unnatural act over and over again....

oh, my.

Posted by: TWTIB | March 12, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for this post, I've been wondering what his innings target for the year would be. Great, informative post.

Posted by: Section220 | March 12, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Both he and Storen could potentially arrive at the same time. Still it may be pay to watch Karns in Potomac as well as Holder. To see if the pitching coaches can find ways to improve them quickly. Potomac will have a very interesting starting rotation in April that's for sure.

Posted by: periculum | March 12, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

If he starts the PNats opener and goes every fifth day, then he'll have five (3 @ home) by the end of April. Five starts for Harrisburg (keeping him on schedule for the sake of argument) gets 4 home and 1 away GS by May 23. Five in AAA Syracuse would go to mid-June, so that would be about right, for starts, but if he pitches upwards of 80 innings by then, that might mean shutting him down sometime in early September.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 12, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Wang and Olsen are probably done and gone.
Last year for Marquis depending on who is on the way from AAA.

Posted by: periculum | March 12, 2010 12:50 PM

So you are writing off the Wang before he even starts a game?

Posted by: dmacman88 | March 12, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse


Do you think the choice of starters in the IntraSquad games versus exhibition games is an indicator as to who will end up in Syracuse in the next few days?

Posted by: periculum | March 12, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

"So you are writing off the Wang before he even starts a game?
Posted by: dmacman88 "

Boz did as well. Are you going to say he's wrong too? Should injuries are just too difficult to recover from : you have 2 recent examples: Chad Cordero, Jesus Flores. To say that Wang is going to do better because he won 19 games a couple of years is silly. Look at his record that last 2. He was far worst than Livo. He was really horrible.

So, given the last 2 years of Wang, the last 2 years of Olsen anyone reasonable would have to say for now you have to write them off. By the time they recover most other teams would have their replacements nicely place. However, this is the Nats, and the Lerners are cheap so ... it is possible but VERY highly unlikely that Olsen and Wang will EVER be the same.

Posted by: periculum | March 12, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

@periculum: pretty sure that dcmacman88 was just making Wang jokes...of course, I could be wrong.

Posted by: TimDz | March 12, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

At least Wang has options ... he may make a nice pitcher for Syracuse ... ~smiles~

Posted by: periculum | March 12, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

I just got my season tickets delivered via UPS!

Posted by: NatsFly | March 12, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

"So you are writing off the Wang before he even starts a game?
Posted by: dmacman88
Boz did as well. Are you going to say he's wrong too?

Will Boz be wong about Wang....?
Signed, Baba Wawa....

Posted by: TimDz | March 12, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

If you were a twee, what kind would you be?

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 12, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

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