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Nats 2nd half storylines: Strasburg's shutdown

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Nats 2nd half storylines: Strasburg's shutdown

The Nationals open tomorrow what promises to be the most compelling second half to a season since the franchise arrived in town in 2005, owners of the NL's best record but saddled with several major questions that need to be answered.Today we're counting down the five most significant storylines to the remainder of the Nationals' season. Next up is storyline No. 2: The club's plan to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg before season's end...
It's been hovering over the Nationals since at least the first day of spring training. Perhaps since the offseason. And perhaps since all the way back in September 2011, when the Nats shut down Jordan Zimmermann at 161 13 innings in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery and suggested they would do the same with Stephen Strasburg in 2012.

And we're getting closer to it becoming reality.

Are the Nationals really going to shut down their ace with several weeks remaining in a pennant race, then prevent him from pitching in the postseason if they reach it?

Yep, that's been Mike Rizzo's plan from the beginning, and he continues to stick to it.

The rationale: The Nationals, as an organization, don't believe in letting young pitchers exceed their previous seasons' innings totals by more than 30 percent or so. This is especially true for young pitchers coming back from major injuries like the torn elbow ligament that Zimmermann suffered in 2009 and Strasburg suffered in 2010.

Strasburg who turns 24 later this month, has never thrown more than 123 innings in a professional season. A 30 percent increase over that total would bring him to 160 innings, which is roughly the number the Nationals are expected to limit the right-hander to this season.

Strasburg has already thrown 100 innings (counting his one inning of relief in Tuesday's All-Star Game). Which means he's probably got about 10 more starts at his disposal before the shutdown occurs sometime in early September.

Because of a couple of off-days built into the late-season schedule, the Nationals might only need to fill Strasburg's rotation spot four times (obviously more if they reach the postseason). But that won't diminish the uproar that will occur around baseball if they indeed stick to their plan and sideline their best pitcher down the stretch.

Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson's ability to explain their rationale and justify their decision -- to fans, media, the baseball world and even their own players -- might be their toughest task.

They're committed to shutting down Strasburg. But can they convey their reasons for doing so in a manner that convinces everyone else to commit to the plan as well?

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Will Mike Rizzo continue to shape the Nationals? The Junkies believe he's too valuable to lose

Will Mike Rizzo continue to shape the Nationals? The Junkies believe he's too valuable to lose

Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Wieters aren't the only important guys within the Nationals organization becoming free agents in 2019.

President of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo is also becoming a free agent when his contract expires on October 31st.

In the final year of his five-year contract, the 57-year old is set to make $2.5 million.

RELATED: HOWIE KENDRICK RETURNING TO NATIONALS

Since joining the organization, Rizzo has turned the team into a legit World Series contender. They've won four division titles in the last six years under his guidance, but have been unable to get over the NL Division series hump. And even though that's a glaring red mark on his resume, Rizzo knows the success he's brought to the organization. 

When you look at what we accomplished,’’ Mike Rizzo said in a recent interview, “it’s really unsung and underappreciated. I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished here. I like it here. I love the city. I love the team I put together. I like being a GM in the NL East. And I want to stay here. I just think I deserve to be treated like some of the best GMs in the game are, too.

Rizzo is talking about GM's like Cubs' Theo Epstein and Yankees' Brian Cashman, who've received big paydays over the last year.

I know we haven’t won the World Series, but I get tired of hearing how we can’t win the big one, or we can’t get out of the first round. We haven’t had that many chances.

Does Rizzo deserve an extension? The Sports Junkies think he does, but with GM's like the ones above cashing out, they can also see him wanting to test the open market.

"Why wouldn't they?", said Jason Bishop, noting his track record.

"There's a sense he wants to test the market," said Eric Bickel. That's the vibe I'm getting from him."

Rizzo is a weekly guest on the Junkies and has said that the organization will figure it out. However, the 2018 season may be the last time for a long time the Nats have a real shot at making a run before they lose some of their stars to other teams. If Rizzo does take that into consideration and decides to go elsewhere, the Junkies don't see him having any issues finding employment.

"If there was a time to roll, it would be after this season when you get your last run with this group," said Eric Bickel. And then If they don't pay you what you think you deserve, he'll be snatched up in 22 seconds."

RELATED: BEST OF NATS' RACING PRESIDENT TRYOUTS

If they do decide to sign him to an extension, will it be a long, drawn-out ordeal? The Junkies disagree on that one. 

"He is too valuable, Jason Bishop said. He's too valuable. You gotta ink him to a deal sometime during the season."

Luckily for D.C. sports fans, long, drawn-out extension talks aren't foreign to them.

To see their full discussion, click the media player above. 

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Nationals re-sign Howie Kendrick for two-years

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Nationals re-sign Howie Kendrick for two-years

WASHINGTON  -- The Nationals have agreed to a $7 million, two-year contract with outfielder Howie Kendrick, a deal subject to a successful physical.

Agent Pat Murphy confirmed the deal to The Associated Press on Monday. USA Today was first to report the deal.

Kendrick, 34, hit .293 with seven home runs and RBIs in 52 games with Washington after he was acquired from Philadelphia. The versatile right-handed hitter got just three plate appearances off the bench in the playoffs.

In 12 major league seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Dodgers, Phillies and Nationals, Kendrick is a .291 hitter with a .755 OPS. He's now primarily an outfielder for Washington after playing left field, second base, first base and other positions throughout his career.