Author: Matthew Pouliot

Stephen Strasburg

Thinking about Stephen Strasburg’s workload


It wasn’t quite so eagerly anticipated as last year, but Stephen Strasburg made his spring debut on Saturday, giving up two runs in two innings against the Mets. Both runs came on a first-inning Ruben Tejada homer that benefited from a nice little breeze to left-center. After throwing 31 pitches in the first, Strasburg was perfect in an 11-pitch second inning.

The outing was Strasburg’s first since he was famously shut down last September 7 after 28 starts and 159 1/3 innings.

This year, Strasburg is working with “no restrictions,” according to manager Davey Johnson. Nationals VP of player development Bob Boone clarified that with USA TODAY last month:

To say there’s no restrictions really means, ‘Hey, we’d like him to pitch 200 innings,’ ” Boone said. “But, you’re not gonna say no restrictions like you might have on Steve Carlton, who would throw 320 innings. You’re not gonna do that. There’s always restrictions, but the meaning is, ‘We’re not gonna shut him down after 160 innings.’

Strasburg, for what it’s worth, talked about being ready to “throw 200-plus innings.” GM Mike Rizzo hasn’t chimed in with any specifics.

Personally, I can’t imagine Strasburg being allowed to throw 200 regular-season innings this year, not with the Nationals hopeful of  playing deep into October. Because if Strasburg throws 200 regular-season innings, then he could end up approaching or even topping 230 innings should the Nationals reach the World Series.

I think the ideal would be for Strasburg to throw about 180 innings during the regular season this year. That’d be a nice little boost from last year and still not a scary number for him to enter the postseason with.

Still, I don’t know whether that is part of the plan at all. Last year, the Nationals refused any possible alternatives that could have made Strasburg available for the playoffs. And the simple fact that he was on the mound today, on Feb. 23, suggests they’re not very concerned with any sort of innings rationing at the moment.

In 2012, Strasburg made his first spring start on March 4 and was fine to throw seven innings on Opening Day. It would have made sense to have him on a similar schedule this spring. As is, he’s due to make seven spring starts, which is two more than he or anyone else really needs. Perhaps that’s not so important without the innings limit this year, but I’d still rather save any extra bullets for September and October than have him pitch in games in February.

Cardinals’ lack of action could be their undoing

Mike Matheny, Chris Carpenter

It’s hard to blame the Cardinals for staying the course. Even with free agents Kyle Lohse and Lance Berkman set to depart, St. Louis ended 2012 with a roster that already looked like a winner entering 2013:

Rotation: Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, Jake Westbrook, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal

Bullpen: Jason Motte, Rosenthal, Edward Mujica, Fernando Salas, Mitchell Boggs, Kelly, Marc Rzepczynski, Eduardo Sanchez, Victor Marte

Lineup: CF Jon Jay, RF Carlos Beltran, LF Matt Holliday, 1B Allen Craig, C Yadier Molina, 3B David Freese, SS Rafael Furcal, 2B Matt Carpenter/Daniel Descalso

What did it make sense to do from there? Upgrade at second base? Perhaps, but it was probably the weakest position in free agency this winter. The Cardinals were rumored to have made a run at Marco Scutaro before he re-signed with the Giants.

Upgrade the rotation? Since the Cards seemed committed to Carpenter and Westbrook, that probably would have meant sending Lynn back to the bullpen and there simply weren’t many starters available in free agency that were better bets than Lynn and those few would have been expensive.

Adding to the bench should have been a priority, and the Cardinals did. Unfortunately, they did so with Ty Wigginton, a defensive liability no longer worthy of a roster spot. They also signed Ronny Cedeno as a shortstop fallback rather than trust an encore performance from late-season surprise Pete Kozma.

Besides those two, the only notable newcomer is lefty specialist Randy Choate.

That the Cardinals did so little might have been just fine if not for the events of the last month. Carpenter is expected to miss the season after his nerve problems returned with a vengeance. Miller, the early favorite to replace him in the rotation, is sidelined with shoulder tightness. And Furcal, the lineup’s biggest question mark, is still having problems with his throwing elbow.

The Cardinals are still fairly well protected in the rotation. Even if they have to dig down deeper as the season progresses, top prospects Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha could prove ready. Rosenthal should be a big weapon wherever he happens to be deployed.

The team is also very well set in the outfield, what with top prospect Oscar Taveras available to step in if Beltran goes down. The Cards can even put Craig back in a corner and call up power-hitting Matt Adams to play first base if needed.

The middle infield is a big issue, though, particularly in light of Furcal’s ill health. Ideally, Matt Carpenter will prove capable at second base and win the job there. However, if he can’t handle the defensive responsibilities, the Cards could be looking at spending big chunks of the season with the light-hitting Descalso covering one spot and Cedeno, Kozma and Ryan Jackson vying for the other.

At third base, Freese also has an extensive injury history, and while Carpenter is a fine fallback there, he can’t play second if he’s starting at the hot corner.

With spring training games having even yet to start, the Cardinals’ depth has been whittled away. If it stops now, the team is still in very good position, particularly since it should have plenty of flexibility to pull off in-season trades. Still, it’s fair to express disappointment that the team didn’t do better than Wigginton and Cedeno for the bench. A Scutaro to start at second or a Kelly Johnson to give added protection would look quite nice right now. The left-handed-hitting Eric Chavez would have made a lot more sense as a backup to two right-handed-hitting corner infielders than Wigginton does. Time will tell if those misfires come back to bite them.

Bobby Valentine is the Athletic Director for Sacred Heart University

Bobby Valentine

Ex-Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine got the gig he was aiming for: he’ll be named the new Athletic Director of Sacred Heart University in a press conference scheduled for Tuesday, CtPost’s William Paxton reports.

It’s another odd turn for the former big-league infielder and three-time major league manager. Besides managing the Rangers, Mets and Red Sox and commentating for ESPN, Valentine also spent seven years managing in Japan, served as Director of Public Safety & Health for Stamford, Connecticut and popularized the wrap sandwich.

Sacred Heart University is a Catholic school located in Fairfield, Connecticut and apparently is a Northeast Conference powerhouse in baseball and golf. The baseball team went 25-32 last season, but still won the NEC for a second straight season with a 19-13 conference record.

Following a disastrous lone season in Boston, it’s doubtful that the 62-year-old Valentine will ever surface in a major league dugout again. Still, he does have a winning record in 16 years as a major league manager, going 1,186-1,165.

Where this leaves Valentine and NBC is unclear. Valentine was hired last month to serve as a co-host on a weekday talk show for NBC Sports Radio. That gig was due to begin in April.

Jason Giambi set to sign with Indians

Jason Giambi

The Denver Post’s Troy Renck reports that the Indians and first baseman Jason Giambi are closing in on a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

The 42-year-old Giambi was considered for the Rockies’ managerial vacancy earlier this winter, but after failing to get that, he said he wanted to keep playing. The Indians should have room for him as a left-handed-hitting DH after losing Travis Hafner to the Yankees.

Serving mostly as a pinch-hitter, Giambi hit .225/.372/.303 with one homer in 89 at-bats for the Rockies last season. He was much better in 2011, batting .260/.355/.603 with 13 homers in 131 at-bats.

If Giambi impresses this spring, the Indians could make him their primary DH against righties, with catcher Carlos Santana occasionally rotating into the spot. Santana and Mike Aviles could share time at DH against lefties.

Brewers revert to thrifty form

Ron Roenicke

The Brewers’ offseason opened with speculation about a push for Josh Hamilton. 3 1/2 months later, their biggest pickup has been Tom Gorzelanny.

Mark Attanasio’s Brewers won 96 games and went to the NLCS in 2011, and while the team lost Prince Fielder afterwards, it was able to bring in Aramis Ramirez as a replacement. Still, despite Ramirez’s best efforts, the team dropped to 83 wins and a third-place finish in the NL Central last year. The bullpen was the biggest problem, and when the Brewers couldn’t extend Zack Greinke, they traded him away to the Angels, sacrificing their second star in 12 months.

The curious thing is that while the Brewers were open to giving Greinke a $100 million deal, they’ve made no effort to distribute that money this winter. Gone also are the salaries No. 3 starter Shaun Marcum, No. 4 starter Randy Wolf and overpaid reliever Francisco Rodriguez. Those were four of the Brewers’ six highest-paid players last year, accounting for more than $38 million of a season-opening $98 million payroll.

Lesser lights Myjer Morgan, Manny Parra, Kameron Loe and Jose Veras have also been lopped off. That’s another $7.7 million.

The replacements: Gorzelanny at $5.7 million for two years, fellow reliever Mike Gonzalez at $2.25 million and infielder Alex Gonzalez at $1.5 million. The only other newcomer due a significant salary is reliever Burke Badenhop (acquired from the Rays) at $1.55 million. All told, they’ll combine to make about as much this year as K-Rod did last year.

As is, the Brewers are looking at a payroll about $25 million-$30 million shy of their 2012 figure. And they certainly have needs. Marco Estrada rates as their No. 2 starter behind Yovani Gallardo. A legitimate eighth-inning guy would be nice. The lineup was pretty well set before Corey Hart’s recent knee surgery, but a quality outfield option would be useful in case either Norichika Aoki or Carlos Gomez can’t repeat his 2012 performance.

Alas, most of the quality players are long gone now. But Milwaukee would still seem to be an obvious fit for Kyle Lohse if the team wasn’t so intent on retaining its first-round pick. Instead, it seems the Brewers will do little and hope for the best. The bullpen can’t be any worse and some young pitching might step up, but the odds are against the offense being as strong again and this is a team that’s going to need a lot of luck to get back to the postseason.