Sunday, June 13, 2010

Strasburg Starts, Zimmerman to DH?

If there's one thing Jim Riggleman could do to help Stephen Strasburg transition smoothly to the major leagues, it's to put his best fielding team behind him. You don't necessarily have to bench Josh Willingham for Willie Harris every time, but you definitely want to do what you can to minimize the number of times Strasburg has to get four outs in an inning.

Which is why I was puzzled to see the line-up card at Nationals Journal this am. At DH, one of the very best fielders at any position in all of baseball: Ryan Zimmerman. In right field, Mike Morse, who has started exactly 16 games at that position in his career. Utilityman Alberto Gonzalez gets a start, at his worst fielding position, third base.

Now, from the perspective of winning games in the short term, there's actually some logic here. If you put your weaker fielding defense behind your biggest strikeout pitcher, you're minimizing the chance that they'll be exposed. And you have to give your bench reps once in a while or they won't be sharp when you need them, and your starters could fade under the daily grind. I would imagine that's what Riggleman would say if asked.

But there are a couple concerns with this. First, it shows that Riggleman's priorities are out of whack. The Nationals' flirtation with not being in last place is fun, but nothing--I repeat nothing--is nearly as important this year than Strasburg.

Second, the last thing you want Strasburg to do is to stop trusting his fielders. One of the few non-injury-related issues that could trip up Strasburg is if he starts thinking he needs to strike out every single guy. His pitch counts would rise, and before long you're looking at a 6-inning starter. It took Matt Cain three years to learn that lesson, and some guys never do.

Someday, Strasburg will be the Halladay or Sabathia-like horse who can lift a whole team, and it will make sense to write lineups like this. But now's not the time to ask him to be that guy. For at least the next month, Zimmerman should absolutely be taking his days off on non-Strasburg starts, and the right fielder ought to be either Willie Harris or Roger Bernadina. Let Morse and Gonzalez get their reps when Livo's pitching.


James Bjork said...

They don't want him to pitch his ass off only to lose 2-1 either.

Anonymous said...

If you want an offensive lineup, sit Gonzo, play Zim, put Bernie in right and have Michael Morse DH.

Sam said...

Or give Dunn a freaking day off and let Morse play first. How we can play an AL series without Adam Dunn DHing once is just beyond me.

Sam said...

a freaking day off "of fielding first base"

Kevin Trainor said...

Linked at Beltway Baseball.