Inside the Phillies: Phillies' Hamels and Halladay weigh in on Strasburg's innings limit

Washington's Stephen Strasburg, a year removed from Tommy John surgery, has been given a limit of 160-180 innings this season by general manager Mike Rizzo.
Washington's Stephen Strasburg, a year removed from Tommy John surgery, has been given a limit of 160-180 innings this season by general manager Mike Rizzo. (ALEX BRANDON / Associated Press)
Posted: August 27, 2012

The innings clock is ticking on Stephen Strasburg, and if Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo sticks to his plan, a perfectly healthy pitcher capable of dominating a game every time he steps on the mound is going to be nothing more than a postseason spectator.

Rizzo's plan, in place since before the start of the season, is to limit Strasburg to somewhere between 160 and 180 innings, which means the 24-year-old righthander has about four or five starts remaining. None of them will come against the Phillies, not that it matters to them at this point.

What does matter is that the Nationals are preparing for a postseason run by voluntarily relinquishing one of their primary weapons. Rizzo believes he is protecting a young arm and following sound medical advice.

Everybody from John Kruk to Scott Boras has weighed in on the issue. Kruk vehemently disagrees with the decision, mostly because he thinks it is unfair to the rest of the Washington players. I'm on that side of the issue, especially since there is no guarantee against an arm injury by limiting a pitcher's innings or that this group of Nationals will ever have a better shot to win the World Series.

Boras, the agent who said last week he helped Rizzo build the Nationals into a power by sending so many of his players to Washington, isn't just on board with the decision; he claims to be one of the architects. I sure hope Boras donates his full postseason share to a worthy cause.

Two Phillies pitchers who piled up the innings as youngsters weighed in on what is sure to be one of the most controversial decisions in baseball history, especially if the Nationals make an early exit from the playoffs.

In 2008 Cole Hamels was just a few months older than Strasburg is now. That, of course, was the year he was named the World Series MVP and the Phillies celebrated just the second title in franchise history. Hamels never had Tommy John surgery, but he had some elbow problems coming through the Phillies' minor-league system.

Regardless, he said he would have a difficult time being told he was going to be shut down in the middle of a season when he was perfectly healthy and the team was on the brink of something special.

"I would be irate," Hamels said. "You play this game for certain moments, and the World Series doesn't come around too often."

Roy Halladay, still searching for his first World Series experience, agreed.

"Fortunately, I never had to make a decision like that," he said. "I don't really understand the benefit [of shutting Strasburg down]."

What's interesting about Hamels and Halladay is that they both encountered some turbulent times after logging a lot of innings at a young age.

Hamels had never pitched more than 190 innings in a season before 2008. That year, he logged 262 innings, including 35 in the pressure-packed postseason. The next year was the worst of his big-league career and it culminated with a series of horrendous postseason performances.

Was he the victim of too many innings at too young of an age?

"No," Hamels said. "I didn't prepare in the offseason and I think if somebody would have . . . given me that heads-up to do what I needed to do to get ready, I think I would have been better off. I suffered the injury in spring training, I twisted an ankle, and I just couldn't get on that roll. I wasn't physically prepared to start that season and I don't think it was because I pitched 250-something innings. I just didn't have the right approach about what to do after a season."

Halladay had a shoulder injury when he was 21 in 1998. He was only 24, the same age Strasburg is now, at the beginning of the 2002 season, and he threw 2391/3 innings for the Toronto Blue Jays. A year later, he logged 266 innings and won 22 games and the American League Cy Young Award. The following year, however, he was 8-8 with a 4.20 ERA and was shut down in early July with a shoulder injury.

Too many innings at too young of an age?

"For me, it was that I didn't really understand how to go about the winter," Halladay said. "I felt like after that [Cy Young] year I actually did too much. I was throwing too much. It's tough to know how much to do and how little to do, but I think a lot of that has to do with just learning your body early in your career.

"To me, over time you learn what you need to do in the winter to get yourself ready. What's too much, what's too little, and I think that has more to do with [good health] than anything."

Doc's free advice to Strasburg and the Nationals?

"I think the work you do in between the starts is more important," Halladay said. "You learn over time how much you need to throw in between your starts and what you need to do during the winter, and that to me is the big difference. It's not how many innings you throw. It's about once I get up there in innings in the second half, do I need to throw a 50-pitch bullpen every time or can I get away with doing less and save myself? Over the years, you learn what works best for you."

Halladay admitted that if he were wearing Strasburg's cleats he'd be campaigning on a daily basis to continue.

"Oh, yeah, absolutely," he said. "And I'm sure he is."

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