The Nationals shutting down Stephen Strasburg is only a good idea if ...

Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg pitches against the Braves at Nationals Park in Washington,...

Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg pitches against the Braves at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., Aug. 21, 2012. (LARRY DOWNING/Reuters)

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:56 PM ET

TORONTO - The Washington Nationals made the right call on Stephen Strasburg.

They displayed proper wisdom and care looking after their 24-year-old asset.

Yep, they acted with just cause and sound reasoning in shutting down Strasburg after 28 starts and 159 1/3 innings.

Nope, not a doubt in my mind.

As long as you can assure us:

— The Nationals will lead the National League East by 7 1/2 games next year on Sept. 13, their lead when John Lannan took Strasburg’s spot in the rotation.

— Washington won’t miss him the rest of the regular season as they go with Lannan plus starers Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler.

— And they’ll get one quality start after another as they roll onto late October and the World Series.

— Strasburg can pitch roughly 170 innings next year without any setbacks.

— Adam Laroche, or his replacement at first, will knock in 100 runs net year as he is about to this season.

— Shortstop Ian Desmond will have another 20-plus homer year on his way to another all-star season.

— Centre fielder Bryce Harper won’t experience the sophomore jinx and will continue with a .788 OPS.

— Gonzalez will have another all-star season or win 20 games, as he will this year.

Point is, when you get this close, you have to make a run at it.

Long suffering fans are one item of concern, but what do players think inside the clubhouse?

To get this close to winning and to shut down a stud starter?

I asked Johnny Bench what it would have been like for him to be catching on a team where his team’s best starter was shut down for precautionary measures.

“When we played the Orioles in 1970 World Series, we were using our fourth starter as our No. 1,” said Hall of Famer Bench, recalling when the Cincinnati Reds met Baltimore.

Wayne Simpson, 21, started Game 1 after following Jim Merritt, Gary Nolan and Jim McGlothlin to open the season.

“There is a possibility Stephen could break down this month. Ergo baseball minds have some clue as to the next few weeks,” Bench said. “I would certainly want Strasburg on the hill leading into the playoffs.

“But if you’ve invested a ton of money for the long term and he has had one surgery already, I have to believe another injury could be career-ending. Who knows, with a couple of weeks rest, we may see him make a comeback. Just conjecture.”

While the Nationals have their own and Strasburg’s best interests at heart, they don’t know for sure if he’ll be injury-free.

No one does.

Duane Ward needed eight pitches to retire the Philadelphia Phillies in the ninth inning in Game 6 of the World Series, getting Dave Hollins, Darren Daulton and Jim Eisenreich. He never threw another pitch as Joe Carter hit a three-run homer off Mitch Williams.

Ward did not throw another pitch until May 11, 1995, when he worked 2/3 of an inning against the New York Yankees. He appeared in three more games that year and was done at age 31 with a bad wing.

The Jays shut down Brandon Morrow after his Sept. 3 start in 2010. He opened on the disabled list the next season.

One executive who helped build a playoff-calibre club and division-winning team was asked what he would do?

“From the outside looking in, I would take it day to day until the end and not use the blanket theory of shutting guys down regardless,” he said. “These players have different bodies. Some are frail which I would understand shutting down a smaller type frame.

“Nevertheless, unless the doctor told me in a press conference, I’m not shutting him down.

“Full steam ahead for me.”

The Nationals may be saying the right things, but how does it look when a team gathers in Florida in February, plays five-plus months of the season, has a chance to win and are suddenly without one of their best starters,

Injuries in baseball are like lottery tickets, lightning strikes or tornado touchdowns.

You can guess, but you can’t be sure.

The franchise has not played a post-season game since Rick Monday of the Los Angeles Dodgers homered in Game 5 of the National League division series against the Montreal Expos in 1981.

A Washington team has not seen October ball since losing the World Series to the New York Giants ... in 1933.

BAD NEWS FOR BUCOS

The 2013 schedule released this week shows that the Pirates will again play next August and September. The Pirates are 13-26 since Aug. 1, going into Friday’s series against the Chicago Cubs. Despite dropping two of every three, the Bucs are still hanging around and are three games out of the NL wild-card race with 20 to play in the final 20 days.

The Pirates seemed certain to end a streak of 19 consecutive losing seasons, a North American major pro sports record, but that my be a problem. They’re now 72-70.

A year ago, the Bucs magical season ended in a misery as they went 18-38 the last two months. In the previous two Augusts and Septembers, the Pirates are a combined 31-64 (.326 win mark).

NAME GAME

Derek Jeter singled in the seventh Thursday to tie Willie Mays for 10th place on the career hits all-time list ... Albert Pujols homered Wednesday, his 475th of his career. He’s tied with Stan Musial and Willie Stargell for 28th all-time. It was also his 30th home run this season, making him the only player in MLB history to hit 30 home runs or more in each of his first 12 seasons. Only Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Jimmie Foxx and Pujols four players have hit 30 or more home runs in 12 consecutive seasons.

ORIOLES CHASING HISTORY

When a team is 10 games back, it’s usually time to start thinking about plans for next season.

The Blue Jays have done that regularly, averaging an 18.5-game finish behind the division leaders (a high of 33 1/2 games in 2004 and a low of 4 1/2 in 2000).

The Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, were 10 and 10 1/2 respectively, behind the New York Yankees on July 18. Heading into the weekend series, the Orioles are tied for first with the Yankees, the Rays are within three games.

Only nine clubs have been at least 10 games back on July 18 or later and managed to win the division:

The 1914 Boston Braves, who were 11 game behind the New York Giants on July 18; the 1930 St. Louis Cardinals, 12 back, Brooklyn Dodgers, Aug. 8; the 1942 Cards, 10 behind, Dodgers, Aug. 5; the 1951 New York Giants, 13 behind, Dodgers, Aug. 11; the 1964 Cards, 11 behind, Philadelphia Phillies, Aug. 23; the 1969 New York Mets, 10 games behind, Chicago Cubs, Aug. 14, the 1978 New York Yankees, 14 behind, Boston Red Sox, July 19; the 1993 Atlanta Braves, 10 behind, San Francisco Giants, July 22 and the 1995 Seattle Mariners, 13 back, Anaheim Angels, Aug. 2.

SMART-FIELDING HIGHLIGHTS

Usually ESPN’s Baseball Tonight web gems, which show the defensive highlight of the night, is a shot of an infielder making an over-the-shoulder grab or an outfielder going up and over the fence to steal a home run.

On back-to-back nights the top play was more baseball smarts than fielding acrobatics.

With the Cincinnati Reds leading the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-1 in the fifth inning Tuesday night Clint Barmes was on second when Brock Holt then singled to right and rounded the base too far.

Etobicoke first baseman Joey Votto cut off the throw and made a shovel pass, a la Derek Jeter to win ESPN nightly honours, to second baseman Brandon Phillips covering first for the second out of the inning.

The next night, Baltimore Orioles rookie third baseman Manny Machado won for his baseball smarts too.

The Tampa Bay Rays and the Orioles were tied 2-2 in the ninth and the Rays had pinch-runner Rich Thompson on second with two outs when Evan Longoria dribbled a pitch down the third-base line. Machado charged the ball, fielded it and seeing he had zero chance to erase Longoria, he faked a throw. Then, he spun and threw to shortstop J.J. Hardy covering third and Thompson was erased in a rundown.

Expect more trickery, the way Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager erased Rajai Davis Thursday night on Jeff Mathis’ bunt single.

My fave was a visit to Cuba when a runner stole second and the catcher’s throw sailed into the outfield. Centre fielder Victor Mesa ran in, stopped, turned and headed towards the outfield fence. The runner took off, Mesa stopped after two strides and threw the runner out at third by 20 feet.

DEJA VU FOR FEHR

“Negotiations are a marathon, not a sprint.”

We woke up to those words after turning on the TV earlier this month.

“Negotiations are a marathon, not a sprint.”

Was this a dream?

It was Don Fehr speaking in front of a set of microphones.

Fehr said those words during 1985, 1990 and 1994 work stoppages as head of the baseball’s Player’s Association.

Outside of Murray Chass and Claire Smith, then both of the New York Times, we can’t remember any ball scribe who did an excellent job writing labour strife.

After a few minutes we realized/remembered Fehr was now with the NHLPA.

Baseball’s average salary in 1994 at the time of the work stoppage — which cost baseball an October full of World Series memories — was $1.1 million. In 2002, it was $2.8 million and it was $3.26 million in 2009 when Fehr stepped down.

Hopefully, the two sides get past Heartbreak Hill and reach the wire of the marathon with a deal in place.

RANGER ROUNDUP

Oakland A’s manager Bob Melvin had to be excited with the lineup the Cleveland Indians sent out against the A’s rivals, the Texas Rangers Thursday night. From the top down:

1. CF Ezequiel Carrera (one homer, 5 RBIs, Sept. callup from triple-A Columbus).

2. SS Brent Lillibridge (3 HRs, 7 RBIs, .214 batting average).

3. 2B Jason Kipnis (actual major league player, .250, 14, 67).

4. DH Carlos Santana (actual major league player, .246, 15, 65).

5. LF Vinny Rottino (hitless in eight at-bats).

6. 1B Matt LaPorta (.176, 0 HR, 1 RBI).

7. RF Thomas Neal (.143, 0 HR, 1 RBI, Sept. callup from Double-A Akron).

8. C Lou Marson (.228, 0 HR, 12 RBI)

9. 3B Jack Hannahan (hitting .200 since June 1, 4 home runs, 26 RBIs).

Texas won the game 5-4.


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