WOMAN: The Washington Post editorial page took a stand the other day on one of the biggest issues now being debated in the District of Columbia. It had nothing to do with Medicare, taxes or the economy - but whether Washington's baseball team, the Nationals, should end the season of its young pitching star, Stephen Strasburg. The newspaper says, yes, siding with the team's general manager. But it's a controversial position because the Nat's seem headed for the playoffs. NPR's Joseph Shapiro explains.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The last time a baseball team in Washington got to the World Series was - well, it's been so long that the last time was in the musical, "Damn Yankees."


RAY WALSTON: (Singing) You got to have heart. All you really need is heart.

SHAPIRO: This is from the 1955 Broadway show. In it, a middle-aged man promises his soul to the devil - to be turned into a young slugger for the team he loves. Now, as tends to happen when you make a deal with the devil, this one goes sour. With Washington just about to beat the Yankees and get to the World Series, the devil decides to shut down Joe Hardy and turns him back into a middle-aged man. Okay, fast forward to today and Washington's real baseball team, the Washington Nationals. No baseball expert expected them to go to the World Series, but now they've got the best win-loss record in baseball. Better than the New York Yankees.


SHAPIRO: Washington's got superior pitchers. All season long, the team's TV announcers have been calling the strikeouts of 24-year-old Stephen Strasburg.


SHAPIRO: Two years ago when Strasburg tore a ligament in his pitching arm, there was fear his promising career was over. He needed surgery, he couldn't pitch for a year. So at the start of this season, way before the Nationals were a playoff contender, team officials said they were taking the advice of Strasburg's doctors. They put a limit on how many innings he'd pitch this year, to protect his arm for the future. Now, he's close to that limit and the Nationals are faced with shutting down their star before they even get to the playoffs.


KEVIN MILLAR: Okay, end of September, the Nationals are there, they need him, pitch. What, his arm's going fall off in four years? Who knows.

SHAPIRO: That's Kevin Millar on the MLB Network. And he speaks for a lot of other ex-players and current ones - that when your team gets a rare shot at the playoffs, you play. Even Tommy John, the first pitcher to have the surgery that saved Strasburg's career, says Strasburg should keep pitching. But a lot's changed in baseball since 1974, when Tommy John had Tommy John's surgery. For one thing, Tommy John, even at the height of his career, never made the millions of dollars a year that Stephen Strasburg is making at the start of his. Today, a baseball player is a long-term investment. Mike Rizzo, the general manager for the Nationals, talked about Strasburg last month on ESPN.


MIKE RIZZO: We're certainly going to do what's best, in the best interest of Stephen Strasburg, because what's in the best interest of him is in the best interest of the Nationals long-term.

SHAPIRO: Rizzo says the team ruled out ending Strasburg's regular season early because he'd still have to keep throwing, even if not in the game, in between. Rizzo's decision gets support from Strasburg's powerful agent, Scott Boras.

SCOTT BORAS: Because we have all these studies that show for players that throw too many innings prior to the age of 24, their chance of pitching for a significant number of years past the age of 30 are dramatically limited.

SHAPIRO: It's not rock solid science and it's not true for every pitcher but there's enough evidence for Strasburg's agent, his surgeon, and his team to worry. And that's why Stephen Strasburg will go along, reluctantly, with the decision to end his season before his team can get to the playoffs. Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.

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