DeRosa: Strasburg opened floodgates to ongoing scrutiny with 2012 shutdown

Chris Lingebach
August 09, 2018 - 1:40 pm

When it comes to the under-performance of the 2018 Washington Nationals, Mark DeRosa agrees, the dependability on Stephen Strasburg has been a huge contributor.

DeRosa, who's on the call of Thursday's MLB Network-produced Nats-Braves series finale (televised exclusively on Facebook), served as a veteran mentor on a 2012 Nationals club that shocked the baseball world twofold: as a club that had never before finished with a winning record, going on to lead the majors with 98 wins; and by shutting Strasburg down before the postseason.

In a Thursday appearance with The Sports Junkies, DeRosa was prompted to comment on if Strasburg, through his limited availability by way of multiple DL stints, is the biggest reason the Nats have struggled in 2018.

By missing so many games, Junkies host Jason Bishop suggested, Strasburg has forced the club to fend off an onslaught of newcomers in the NL East – Atlanta and Philly – with substandard rotational arms like Jefry Rodriguez and Tommy Milone. That's left a void as deep as 10 games, Bishop argued, that could have otherwise been Strasburg wins, which would have likely shifted the competitive balance in the East back into Washington's favor.

"Trust is the biggest thing. I agree with you 100 percent," DeRosa said. "I know Bryce got off to a terrible start, but he was still posting every day."

"Stras has been... and, again, playing here in 2012, I know how good a guy Stras is, I know how hard a worker Stras is," DeRosa said. "But at the end of the day, can your teammates rely on you and trust you throughout the course of the season? Injuries are going to pop up. I get that. But it just seems like... he's allowed himself to be consistently questioned ever since he sat down in 2012. Once he did that, you leave the floodgates open to being buried by the national media or everyone around you, because that looks like a selfish act. He chose himself over the team at that moment."

"Now, we knew that going in, in spring training," DeRosa recalled. "I can think back to spring training, we had heard that that would happen, that he was going to sit it down once we got to the postseason. I'll be honest with ya, I tried to talk him out of it multiple times as we started rolling, because I don't think anyone really realized in 2012 how good this team could potentially be.

"So I think maybe there was some belief that we weren't going to win the division and it would just kind of be a Jordan Zimmermann situation. And it ended up being, hey, we're the best team in the National League and we've got a chance to win the World Series, and we're going to sit our best starter down. So, once you do that, I think Stras loses the ability to kind of have excuses."

Strasburg, for better or worse, will forever be linked to 2012, his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, when a suddenly surging Nationals club arrived a year ahead of schedule. That same club entered its first postseason down its top starter, whose season was ended early on an innings-limit plan projected by the organization well in advance, but one which few in baseball thought they'd stick to once faced with World Series aspirations.

That decision, understood but unpopular among players in the clubhouse, brought the wrath of anonymous reports from rival executives all over, crying arrogance on the Nationals' part, for choosing the long-term health of a cornerstone player over the opportunity to win now.

"You take the best pitchers off any team that has a chance to make it to the postseason and it's devastating," DeRosa told USA Today in Aug. 2012. "At the same time, we knew it going in. You kind of hoped the better we played the more the decision changed to the opposite."

General Manager Mike Rizzo took all of the heat, saying it was his decision, even when questioned by Strasburg's own father (via The Washington Post, Aug. 2012).

"It's not on Davey Johnson or Mr. Lerner. It’s on me," he said. "I know it may stain my reputation or my career. There’s no way it can ever be proved if I was right. The easy thing for me is just to do nothing. But I’m hardheaded. The decision was made five months ago because it was the best decision for Stephen and the Nationals. And nothing is going to change it."

Even in retrospect, players on that 2012 club were left feeling haunted by the decision. In June 2014, Michael Morse – then a member of a Giants club that would go on to vanquish the 96-win Nationals in that year's NLDS – told USA Today:

"It was such a weird feeling,'' Morse says. "I kept watching Stras throwing bullpens, still running, still doing his thing. I thought, 'Man, maybe he's going to come out of the bullpen.' Or in Game 5, the lights are going to turn off, the spotlight is going to come on, he's going to run out.

"I remember talking to guys like Mark DeRosa, and they said, 'This could be your one and only shot.' It made sense what they were saying to me.''

DeRosa was asked by The Junkies how Strasburg reacted, at the time, to those multiple attempts to talk him out of shutting it down.

"Like Stras, very low-key," DeRosa said Thursday. "I said, Stras... I gave him a myriad of options. I said, 'If you're worried about future financial success, go knock on Mike Rizzo's door right now and sign your deal, and pitch tonight for us. He'll sign you.' Take your $175 million in 2012 and I need you starting Game 1 against the Cardinals."

"That didn't happen," he said. "But what I'm saying is, he leaves himself open for the scrutiny by the way his career has transpired, because when he's right, he's one of the best pitchers in the game. Guys wouldn't be as upset if they felt they were getting a three, four out on the mound, but you're getting a one-one when he goes to the post and he's right, and it's frustrating."

Six years later, the Nats are still chasing their first World Series title, along with ghosts of 2012.

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