WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg has "probably" two or three starts remaining before he's done for the season, and he no longer can claim he wasn't told the shutdown was coming.
"I said something to him on the plane, you know: 'You've got a few more to go,' " Johnson said before Thursday night's game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Nationals began the day with a five-game lead over Atlanta in the National League East.
Johnson said Strasburg is down to "probably ... two or three" starts to go in the ace's first full season since undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery. General manager Mike Rizzo has said he'll have an intuitive feel for when to pull the plug, but Johnson said there's a "pretty firm plan" in place that's dependent on how long Strasburg stays in each game.
"He might pitch 10 innings one game, or he might just go five," Johnson said. "I asked Rizz, 'Do you want me to hook him after three? Save some innings?'"
Johnson quickly added, in case there was any doubt, that such an early hook is not an option. He also ruled out sending Strasburg to the bullpen.
"And, no, I'm not going to drag it out and give him seven days between starts, either," Johnson said.
The Nationals have not revealed the exact innings target for Strasburg, but the team shut down Jordan Zimmermann at 161 1/3 innings under similar circumstances last year. Strasburg has thrown 150 1/3 and leads the NL with 186 strikeouts.
Strasburg (15-6, 3.05 ERA) has helped lead the Nationals to a remarkable turnaround season, with the team in its first pennant race since the franchise moved to Washington. The decision to shut him down, which was determined at the start of the season, has generated considerable national debate as to whether it could cost the city a chance to win its first World Series title since 1924.
Strasburg has feigned ignorance of the situation, repeatedly claiming that no one in Washington's organization has talked to him about innings constraints. There's no doubt now that he's been told.
Johnson was asked if Strasburg gave any pushback. The manager said that wasn't relevant.
"I'm the one that puts his name on the lineup card," Johnson said. "And it ain't happening after the innings limit."
Strasburg's next start is scheduled for Sunday. Barring a rainout or some change in the rotation, his final start likely would be Sept. 7 at home against Miami or Sept. 12 at the New York Mets.
Johnson went on to say that he'll be shutting down a "perfect" 24-year-old pitcher.
"He's perfect as far as I'm concerned, his work habits. ... It's just (he still has a) learning curve, with hitters, how he locates the ball, not getting frustrated," Johnson said. "Just stuff that comes from experience."