Dante's "Inferno" describes the nine circles of hell with visions of stinking swamps, fiery rains and rivers of blood.

Christopher Moltisanti, after a near-death experience on the HBO show "The Sopranos," said he saw hell -- and it was an Irish bar.

Stephen Strasburg has a vision of hell right now -- the attention of the country focused on him for what he isn't doing.

If it's not his worst nightmare, it's probably right up there.

On the field, the Washington Nationals star pitcher desperately wants to beat anyone who walks up to the plate with a bat. Off the field, he would rather be left alone to his private and quiet life.

He is not Bryce Harper. To Strasburg, they're all clown questions, bro.

He has learned to live with the attention paid to his pitching and has learned to talk about his decisions on the mound and the results in post-game interviews.

But in his mind, that is no different than what Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and the other Nationals pitchers have to do when they pitch. It's expected that the starting pitcher speaks to the media after a game he starts. It's nothing special -- which is what Strasburg yearns for.

It's an odd mix. He is special, perhaps a once-in-a-generation pitcher, yet he desperately desires to just be a teammate. He loathes special attention.

If you were listening last week when the Nationals sprung the early shutdown on Strasburg the day after his loss to the Marlins, you heard all of that.

"I play the game to obviously be a good teammate and to win," he told reporters. "It's going to be a tough one to swallow. But like I said, all I can do is be the best teammate possible to these guys. I think everybody overlooks all the other great contributions that we've had this year."

In other words: Stop looking at me! I'm not pitching anymore!

But that's not going to happen, which is the hell Strasburg finds himself in. Seemingly, the entire nation has weighed in on whether or not the Nationals are right in shutting down Strasburg while the team is in a pennant race, heading toward its first postseason berth in Washington since 1933.

It's not going to stop because Strasburg isn't pitching. This is the biggest post-steroids story in baseball. We've never seen anything like this before -- an athlete pulled in the heat of battle for fear of an injury that hasn't happened yet.

Expect the television networks to have a Stras-cam to focus on the pitcher too valuable to pitch -- sounds like a Matt Christopher book -- during Nationals playoff games. Every failure of the team will be tied to the Strasburg shutdown.

It's not fair. It's hell.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.