Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo explain the Strasburg shutdown

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We learned earlier today that the Nationals have decided to shut Stephen Strasburg down for the rest of the season rather than have him make one final start Wednesday against the Mets. Here’s how it went down.

According to Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com, Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he made the decision after Strasburg gave up five runs over three innings last night against the Marlins. He discussed the idea with general manager Mike Rizzo and pitching coach Steve McCatty before going home for the night. Still convinced it was the right decision, Johnson informed Strasburg this morning that he was being shut down effective immediately.

In the end, Johnson and Rizzo agreed that Strasburg was showing signs of physical and mental fatigue and didn’t see much difference between pulling the plug now or on Wednesday.

“He’s had a great year,” Johnson said. “I know what he’s going through for the past couple weeks. The media hype on this thing has been unbelievable. I feel it’s hard for him — as it would be [for] anybody — to get mentally, totally committed in a ballgame. And he’s reached his innings limit that was set two years ago, so we can get past this and talk about other things for a change.”

“I think the accumulation of the focus problems and the physical fatigue took its toll on him,” Rizzo said. “I think what the doctors had prescribed for him, the innings parameters, were right on. It was a prudent time to pull the plug. It was a plan we had since Feb. 1. I don’t think too many people should be surprised by it.”

We knew Strasburg was going to be shut down eventually, but he was never formally told how many starts he had left until he met with Rizzo, Johnson and McCatty on Monday. During that meeting, the young right-hander said he was having trouble sleeping thinking about the impending shutdown. Sensing that it was weighing on his mind during his abbreviated start last night, the Nationals decided to end his season.

I mentioned earlier how Johnson cited the unusual amount of “media hype” as something that gradually consumed Strasburg. I had a pretty emotional response about it and that’s because I think the Nationals are partially responsible for this situation blowing up as it did. That said, I was a little harsh on Johnson. Strasburg isn’t a robot and to think he wouldn’t be affected by the national attention it has received would be pretty naive. He’s a competitor after all, so going from pitcher to spectator while the rest of your teammates are gearing up for the postseason must be a pretty lousy feeling. Johnson clearly has his best interests at heart and there was little reason to keep the controversy alive for a few more days if he was going to be shut down anyway.

This situation got bigger than anyone could have anticipated. I suspect that if you caught Mike Rizzo in a moment of candor, he might say that he didn’t expect the team to take off this quickly. And if they could do it all over again, perhaps they would have managed Strasburg’s workload a little bit differently. But that’s baseball for you. The Nationals have decided to take a bold stance with a unique talent and there’s just no way to know right now if it was the right move. We may never know.

Mets to move Matt Harvey to the bullpen

Matt Harvey
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Mets right-hander Matt Harvey is heading to the bullpen, according to comments made by club manager Mickey Callaway on Saturday. As predicted, Harvey doesn’t appear to be taking the news particularly well, going so far as to tell Callaway that the decision has him “at a 10 with being pissed off” and that he’s motivated to prove himself as a starter.

It’s been rough going for Harvey this spring. After missing significant time to a shoulder injury last season, the 29-year-old righty returned to the mound with a lot left to prove. He pitched to an 0-2 record in four starts, issuing 14 runs, four home runs and 17 strikeouts in 21 innings. It’s been a while since the Mets have seen anything better out of their starter — he hasn’t turned in a sub-4.00 ERA since 2015 and hasn’t pitched well enough to earn an All-Star berth since 2013 — and now it appears they’re at the end of their rope.

At this point, the Mets insist that the shift is a temporary one. While Callaway has helped successfully convert several starters to the bullpen, including Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco, that’s not the plan for this veteran right-hander. Instead, both the team and Harvey seem to view the change as a way to clear up any mental blocks Harvey may be encountering on the mound. “We know he’s healthy,” assistant GM John Ricco told reporters. “He’s feeling good. Then you get to, is this a little bit of a mental thing, a confidence thing? One of the things we talk about is getting him into the ‘pen, where he can have success in short spurts, get that confidence back and really let it go and get back to being a guy who can dominate the way he’s shown in the past.”

Harvey will be eligible to pitch out of the bullpen on Tuesday, when the Mets are scheduled to kick off their next road series against the Cardinals. As for his replacement, left-hander Jason Vargas will resume his role in the rotation when he comes off the disabled list next Saturday.