The transition from Stephen Strasburg to John Lannan played as just another game in the visitors' clubhouse at Citi Field, and, for that matter, on the field as well. Lannan admitted the circumstances were strange, but the evening didn't have any kind of passing-the-torch feeling. Lannan pitched 5 2/3 innings of a 2-0 Nationals win over the Mets on Wednesday, completing a sweep in advance of a big series in Atlanta.
This was originally to be Strasburg's final start before being shut down for the year as a precaution after his Tommy John surgery in 2010. Instead, after his previous start was a clunker, the Nats pulled the plug a few days earlier than expected. Strasburg won't pitch again in 2012, with the goal being to have him healthy and dominant next season and beyond.
The wisdom of that decision has been debated ad nauseam, of course. It's done, though. The club is committed to it, and whether you or Strasburg or Scott Boras like it or not, Strasburg's next pitch in anger will be made in 2013.
"Once you make a decision, you make the decision based on all the right reasons and then you don't have to revisit it," Johnson said. "The second guess is a wonderful thing in baseball, and everybody has it, but none of them have all the information I have."
So the call went to Lannan, who has now made 131 starts for Washington but only three this year, thanks primarily to the emergence of Ross Detwiler. Lannan pitched about like Lannan usually pitches, which is effectively but not excitingly. He's no Strasburg, but they're not asking him to be.
The Nationals are close enough to the postseason at this point, with a magic number of 11 to clinch a division title, that all they need from Lannan is not-disaster. He's more than capable of that, even under unusual circumstances.
"It's definitely strange," Lannan said after the game. "There's a lot of strange things going on. What's going on with Stras hasn't happened before. So coming in here, [I'm] just trying to do my job and take one day at a time. Coming up here, I didn't know exactly what was going on, but I knew I was going to pitch at some point. So I've just got to keep that mindset."
Come October, Strasburg's innings won't go to Lannan. They'll go to Edwin Jackson, who moves up from No. 4 to No. 3 in a playoff rotation, and Detwiler, who moves from a likely bullpen role to being the No. 4 starter.
So in the short term, if there's pitching to be scrutinized, it'll be during the Nats' next two games, not their most recent one. Detwiler and Jackson pitch Friday and Saturday, respectively, in Atlanta, and their performances in October will be among the greatest deciding factors as to how far this team goes. There's reason to be confident. Jackson is an established, successful big league pitcher, and Detwiler just keeps getting better.
But it's plenty possible that they'll blow up and Washington's season will be over within a week after the regular season ends. Baseball is the most unpredictable of the major sports, the one game in which the lesser team beats the better team the most often. With Strasburg, Washington could flame out. Without him, it could win the World Series. And vice versa.
Either way, if you'll be making the call based on what happens in the next six or seven weeks, you'll be looking at it the wrong way.
There are only two fair ways to judge a decision. One is at the immediate moment it's made, with the information at hand at the time. This, in fact, is really the only fair way to assess the decision itself. After all, none of us is a soothsayer. Criticizing outcomes is a different matter, but if you want to be a fair judge of any decision, it's only right to limit yourself to what can be known at the time.
The only other fair assessment comes at the end, when the entirety of the outcome is in evidence. The real read on how this all turns out won't truly be known for years -- when Strasburg is in the Hall of Fame, or out of baseball at 30, or simply on another team's payroll as a free agent. Then we'll know how it worked out.
If the Nationals win the World Series without Strasburg this year, we really won't know. If they flame out in the first round, and win it next year with a healthy Strasburg, even then we really won't know. The decision was made with the long view in mind, not five or seven games or three rounds in October. And certainly not one night in September.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.