The idea already made plenty of sense. Now it seems like the obvious choice with Edwin Jackson getting inserted into Washington’s rotation.
Adding Jackson to a rotation that already included Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan gives the Nationals seven viable starters, with Chien-Ming Wang and Ross Detwiler currently in reserve (Tom Gorzelanny could also be included in that mix, but the Nationals view him strictly as a reliever now). The big issue, though, is that the best of those starters is only expected to throw about 160 innings this season after missing most of 2011 following Tommy John surgery.
So, if Strasburg starts the first week of the season and doesn’t miss any time, he’s probably going to run out of innings in mid-August. Which isn’t so bad if the Nationals are content to win 70 games this year. However, after adding Jackson and Gonzalez, the Nationals can at least dream of the wild card. The offense will need bounce-back seasons from Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, but the cause is hardly hopeless.
Which means the Nationals should just scratch Strasburg from spring training. Instead of having him start to gear up in mid-February, have him do it in mid-April instead. Such a plan would keep him available for the entire month of September and then into October, on the off chance the Nationals make it. They’ll certainly be willing to stretch that innings limit a bit if they get to the postseason.
And, yeah, I know a win in April is just as valuable as a win in September… such a strategy wouldn’t necessarily improve the Nationals’ record. But then again, it might. The Nationals’ other six starters are a whole lot more likely to all be healthy on April 1 than on September 1. Given their light workloads of late, Zimmermann and Wang in particular are candidates to wear down as the season goes on. A start that doesn’t go to Strasburg in April will go to Wang or Detwiler instead. A start that doesn’t go to Strasburg in September might instead go to Yunesky Maya or Craig Stammen.
There is one big con to my plan: what to do about Strasburg’s roster status during the two months he’s off. Strasburg has options left, so the Nationals have the ability to send him down to the minors. If they tried doing so, though, agent Scott Boras would likely pitch a fit and file a grievance since Strasburg would lose a couple of months of service time. It’d be better just to put him on the disabled list, allowing Strasburg to continue to accrue his service time. MLB doesn’t have such a provision for putting a healthy player on the DL, but since it can be argued that Strasburg is still completing his rehab from Tommy John surgery, maybe this one could slide.