Some General Managers are more creative than others.
When the Stephen Strasburg shutdown was announced in 2012, the plan seemingly lacked creativity. Stephen Strasburg pitched Opening Day on April 5th and pitched his turn in the rotation each time until he reached his 160 inning pre-determined limit on September 7th as his season abruptly ended. The only time Strasburg had more than 2 extra days of rest between starts was for the All Star break. Rizzo was boldly criticized as the NL East Champions did not have their Ace for the post-season. That is now ancient history, and that was then and this is now. We all knew there was an innings limit for Strasburg; however, Rizzo would never publicly disclose what that limit was just like Jordan Zimmermann when his season ended just as abruptly the year before Strasburg at 161 1/3 innings.
Now, GM Mike Rizzo potentially has two key starting pitchers who are on innings limits. We are projecting limits of 140 innings for Lucas Giolito and that could certainly increase to 160 innings that Jordan Zimmermann and Strasburg were shutdown at. We are projecting 183-191 innings for Joe Ross depending if Rizzo goes 20% or 25% over Joe’s 152 2/3 innings from 2015. Creativity will be needed once again, and Mike Rizzo gets a do-over of sorts. This should be much easier with Lucas Giolito as he isn’t needed on the MLB roster in April, and Joe Ross’ inings will be more difficult to control as he is the Nats #5 pitcher and his innings have to be controlled at the MLB level.
Creativity doesn’t need to be complicated as Lucas Giolito could be shutdown to start the season and just work on mechanics and his 2-seamer in Viera. 140 innings equals 22 starts or closer to 30 if they keep him between 4 to 5 innings per start. If Giolito’s limit is closer to 160 innings then it is a different strategy altogether. With some skipped starts built-in, Giolito could start pitching in Double-A at the beginning of June and make it through October or start right away and pitch 4 to 5 innings per start.
Joe Ross should be able to make it through the entire season if his first start is April 13th and they skip a start at the All-Star break and one or two in September.
Rizzo will also need to be creative with his bullpen. It looks like Trevor Gott will start the season in Triple-A. By adding Belisle and Sean Burnett to the bullpen with veterans like Papelbon, Shawn Kelley, Yusmeiro Petit, and Oliver Perez, Rizzo will have 6 veterans without minor league options available. If Felipé Rivero and Blake Treinen are 2 of the better relievers, who leaves on April 13th when Dusty Baker needs Joe Ross as his 5th starter?
Rivero and Treinen have options to be sent down, but any other reliever would have to be DFA’d which begs the question, does Mike Rizzo have a creative plan already in place for the inevitable or does it mean that Sean Burnett won’t make the Opening Day line-up? Burnett has a decision to make tomorrow as his opt-out date is April 1st.
Rizzo also has to be creative if he adds Burnett to the 40 man roster and decides he wants to add a bench player who isn’t on the 40 man roster to the Opening Day line-up like Chris Heisey, Reed Johnson, or Brendan Ryan. Only Matt den Dekker is on the 40 man roster in the remaining pool of bench hopefuls.
Creativity takes many forms and twists and turns, but an essential part is good planning and changing on the fly as nothing is as easy as it seems in baseball.
In Rizzo We Trust.