Space Coast Stadium in Viera, FL seats 8,100 fans, and claims every seat provides “a great view of the field.” If you are sitting somewhere near home plate today, that view may be partially obstructed. The obstructions will not be anything like the venerable steel beams one might find at Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, but rather extended lenses, tripods, or standing reporters. In arguably the most anticipated Spring Training game in recent history, Stephen Strasburg will take the mound at approximately 1:05 this afternoon, facing both the Detroit Tigers and an undoubtedly staggering media presence. The hype is unquestioned, but what should we expect out of today’s debut?
One thing that you can be sure of is that Strasburg’s outing will not last long. In the six Nationals’ games this spring, all losses by the way, the starters have all pitched two innings each (regardless of pitch count, as evidenced by J.D. Martin’s 19-pitch outing). So, it looks like the world will get a two-inning glimpse into the Nationals’ future.
This is actually not the first time Strasburg has pitched in a professional game. This fall, he made a few appearances in the Arizona Fall League, before the team wisely shut him down. His debut there came on October 16, for the world-renowned Phoenix Desert Dogs, tossing 3 1/3 shut-out innings. He threw as hard as advertised, topping out at around 98-mph and struck out a couple of hitters along the way. ESPN.com reported on the game, and a handful of Major League scouts showed up, but now that the “Desert Dogs” on Strasburg’s chest has been replaced by “Nationals,” national interest is understandably piqued.
Alright, so what is Strasburg going to show us? Well, more than likely he is going to throw hard. He normally tops 95 on his heater, and I am sure the adrenaline will drive it up a bit from there. We will probably see a few glimpses of the other pitches in his repertoire, with a changeup or slider sprinkled in here and there, but in only two innings of work it is unlikely he will have to throw much more than pure four-seam fastballs. One thing we will probably not see is much emotion or nerves from Strasburg. Pitching Coach Steve McCatty has raved about Strasburg’s demeanor, saying he has been “a straight line the whole time.” With all of the buzz surrounding this game, an unflappable young ace would be quite a sight to see.
Another important question for Nationals’ fans is what do we want to see from Strasburg today? Obviously, ten-pitch, buzz-saw innings like the one Drew Storen produced this weekend would be nice, but that is probably not what Jim Riggleman and McCatty will be focused on. In fact, it is probably better in the long run if Strasburg does not come out total gangbusters this weekend, as it will help quell the demands to see him in the Big Leagues come April. What Strasburg really needs to work on today and the rest of Spring Training is all the things other than throwing that goes into being a Major League baseball player. As I discussed earlier in the month, and Adam Kilgore talks about in today’s Washington Post, the Nationals need not only develop Strasburg’s right arm, but also teach him the finer points of the position, such as “pitching from the stretch, fielding the position, [and] holding runners on.” While the national media may drool over his pure power on the mound, the trained eye will be watching how Strasburg handles all the demands of his new job.
As we wait for the game to start, and we are still unsure of the results, we do know a few things about today’s game. First, we know the media coverage will stretch farther and wider than anything we have ever seen in the history of the Nationals or les Expos (as demonstrated by yesterday’s Nats Video of the Day). Also, we know even the Tigers are eagerly anticipating the game, and seeing if the kid lives up to the hype. The buzz is deafening, and even the most cynical Nationals’ fan has to be a least a little titillated by today’s tilt. I will, however, offer one final warning: enjoy watching the game, enjoy reading about the game, and enjoy discussing Strasburg’s debut around the proverbial water cooler. After that, take a step back and do one of two things. First, if Strasburg gets shelled, relax it is first game, it will get better. Second, if Strasburg does blow everyone away, relax as well. He needs to spend some time in the minors. No matter how good he looks, there is no need to rush him – the Nationals are not going to win the World Series this year. If the Nationals leave him on the farm for some time, he can be brought along slowly, saving his arm and his Major League service time (before he becomes a free agent). While the Nationals are not going to be contenders this year, if they protect their assets like Strasburg, that may be something we discuss in the not-too-distant future.
News and notes from camp:
– Today’s game will be televised live in HD on MASN.
– Livan Hernandez is getting close to taking the mound, and the team is working on a timetable for Chien-Ming Wang’s return.
– On the field, the Nationals’ got back to their usual ways, allowing 11 runs in a loss. Zimmerman and Willingham did go deep, however.
Small notes from around the Bigs: Another young gun made his debut yesterday, and has the city of Cincinnati excited about their own future. Ardolis Chapman, the Cuban defector who signed with the Reds’ this offseason, was a bit wild in his two innings of work, but did not surrender a run. The big talk was not about his stat line, but about the numbers popping up on the radar gun. At least three times, the young lefty hit at least 100 mph. If you have a southpaw who can bring it like that, that is cause for some real excitement.
Song of the Day: She & Him – “Thieves”
Nats Video of the Day: A sold-out Space Coast Stadium for the Nationals’ spring home opener.