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Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg. (Associated Press)<br>

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg. (Associated Press)

Gazzolo: Two schools of thought, but only one option for Strasburg

Last Modified: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 1:34 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Back in mid-March, McNeese State baseball coach Terry Burrows had a decision to make.

His Cowboys had gotten off to a rough start, but with two straight wins over Central Arkansas they had begun to turn the corner.

Now, on Sunday and with a sweep within reach, Burrows was caught in a spot.

The previous two nights he had turned to freshmen pitcher Michael Clemens to close out a victory. With momentum on his side, and Clemens tugging on his jersey to throw again, Burrows chose the wise path.

He elected to go away from Clemens, saving the youngsters arm. The Cowboys blew the lead but won the game.

The real winner may prove to be Clemens in the long run.

“I am not going to jeopardize a kid’s future for the sake of one game,” Burrows said after that game.

A few months later, a Iowa high school pitcher threw some 130 pitches in a playoff game. He would throw on back-to-back days in the state championship.

Two different ways of handling a pair of pitchers who were just months apart.

We may never know which is the right approach, but in both cases things seemed to have worked out.

Now comes the story of Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals.

He is the young ace of the team with the best record in baseball, a club ready to make a playoff push and possible even a World Series run.

Yet Strasburg, with millions of dollars in the bank and one of baseball’s brightest futures, is about to be shut down by his own club.

Unwilling to risk an uncertain future for a chance at a championship, Nationals officials are playing it safe.

While it makes sense in both high school and college to protect a player’s future, that’s not so in the pros. On that level, it is all about winning and winning now.

Tomorrow is not guaranteed. As long as he feels fine, Strasburg should take his turn on the mound.

Now comes the real concern.

While the Washington Nationals say they are protecting Strasburg from himself, and for the future of the franchise, they are only kidding themselves.

Already once holding out for a long time in a contract dispute, Strasburg is poised to be worth even more on the open market once he becomes a free agent.

While the pitcher’s agent applauds the Nationals’ decision, and that agent is Scott Boras by the way, you wonder just who is looking out for the fans of this club.

The Nationals have stunk since moving to Washington, and now, just as they are getting close to a special fall, at least a good portion of their hope is being tossed aside. And for what they must ask.

There is no guarantee that Strasburg will re-sign with the Nationals. You can bet Boras won’t be giving the club a hometown discount when his boy hits the open market.

So, the Nationals are basically risking this year’s championship chances for a player who might or might not be with them long term. It seems very strange.

It’s one thing to protect a teenager from himself, it is another to hold a professional out and put your franchise and fan base on hold.

The Nationals will tell you they can win without Strasburg, but the fact is, if they get to the final game of the World Series and lose, it will be a bitter pill to swallow if Strasburg is sitting in the stands.

And their fans will remember.

It’s one thing to have pitch counts and inning checks in Little League, high school and even college. I’m in favor of that.

But the pros...

It seems the Nationals are doing the right thing for Strasburg and saving his future innings to the next highest bidder.

•••

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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