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.

J.D. Martinez tells teams he prefers an outfield role

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Free agent outfielder/slugger J.D. Martinez is reportedly seeking an outfield gig, says Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. According to Silverman’s sources, Martinez’s suitors have been informed that the veteran slugger would give preference to teams that can offer a corner outfield spot, rather than a DH-only role.

That could spell trouble for the Red Sox, who appear to be Martinez’s biggest suitors so far this offseason. Outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi are firmly established at the corners, and prior reports from club president Dave Dombrowski suggest that center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is not going anywhere anytime soon (thereby eliminating the possibility of reshuffling the outfield). The DH spot is still wide open for Martinez, who doesn’t seem to be totally closed off to the idea, but any full-time or part-time role on the field is likely off the table at this point.

Of course, the Red Sox aren’t the only ones pursuing Martinez’s services this winter. The 30-year-old slugger has been linked to both the Diamondbacks and Giants in weeks past, and while they have the roster flexibility to accommodate his preferences, they’ll need to clear another massive hurdle: the seven-year, $250 million contract he’s said to be seeking. Both clubs will need to get creative to make such a deal work. The Diamondbacks are rumored to be shopping right-hander Zack Greinke in an attempt to free up some room on their payroll for Martinez, while the Giants appear more inclined to scour the trade market for outfield help than shell out cash for another hefty contract in free agency.