Every few days we get a little clearer view of when Nationals’ ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg will start his final game of 2012. Just two years removed from Tommy John surgery, the club’s decision to be conservative with Strasburg and end his season early – despite in a pennant race – has made it a piñata for everyone in baseball with an opinion.

Fair enough. Washington general manager Mike Rizzo has said from the beginning of the season that he was willing to take the slings and arrows. I wonder if he ever thought it would get this intense. Anyway, on Thursday manager Davey Johnson said Strasburg would start “two or three” more games. That eliminates a possible Sept. 18 start against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park. Instead, Strasburg season likely concludes in New York against the Mets on Sept. 12.

It’s a pretty firm plan. I’m not telling you,” Johnson cracked to reporters. “But it also depends – he might pitch 10 innings one game. Or he might just pitch five.”

Johnson said he spoke with Strasburg on the plane ride home from Miami Wednesday night just so he didn’t think – after a rough outing the day before – that this Sunday’s game against St. Louis would be his last. He will also pitch Sept. 7 against Miami at home. Johnson said his performance in those games – good or bad – won’t dictate whether the team throws him one more time in New York.

I thought it’d be a learning experience to get [knocked around],” Johnson said after Strasburg gave up seven runs, five earned, on nine hits in five innings against the Marlins. “But he and [catcher Kurt] Suzuki stayed around with [pitching coach Steve McCatty] a couple hours after the game talking about it. It was nice, too, that [Detroit ace Justin] Verlander got it handed to him on the same day. He gave up [eight]. No, Steve’s in a good place, too. He’s all right with it.”

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