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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.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.