It is the biggest story in sports right now, the perfect storm of a bar argument being carried out across the country: The Nationals, in first place in the National League East, are shutting down ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg sometime next month. Are they crazy?

Washington general manager Mike Rizzo hasn't changed his stance since February, when local reporters first asked him about his plans for Strasburg entering his first full year after Tommy John surgery. All the advice Rizzo received from his medical experts, including Dr. Lewis Yocum, the renowned surgeon who performed Strasburg's surgery, said pitching a full season was a bad idea.

In recent weeks, critics have noted there are no peer-reviewed studies that categorically show how Strasburg will benefit. And they are correct. The number of power pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery before age 23 and returned for long careers is too small a sample size.

No surprise, but Scott Boras, Strasburg's agent, sees things differently. On ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" on Wednesday, Boras lambasted former Atlanta Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who on the same program the day before called Washington's front office "pathetic."

Mazzone cited his own experience with Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery in 1991. That trio, led by a 21-year-old Avery, pitched the Braves to the World Series. Glavine and Smoltz are likely headed to the Hall of Fame. Avery? Well, maybe Mazzone should have stopped at the first two. By the end of his age 23 season, Avery had thrown 8282Ú3 innings in the majors, including the postseason -- well beyond Smoltz (503) and Glavine (4312Ú3). He retired at 29 because of injury and ineffectiveness. Strasburg just turned 24 but unlike Avery has a major surgery behind him.

"Every pundit, every person said, 'Hey, [Avery is] fine. His velocity is fine. You can test the velocity.' He had no physical complaints between 21 and 23," Boras said. "We had the supposed [Mazzone] throwing program. The reality of it is that when you go and look at pitchers that throw too many innings before the age of 24, there's a significant factor that relates to their inability to have a long-term career."

- Brian McNally