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The wait is just about over to watch Stephen Strasburg

strasburg pre start.jpg

Tuesday morning, presuming he has not changed his routine since college, Stephen Strasburg will arrive in the home clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium and act like any other pitcher.

"I don't know of any superstitions he has," said Erik Castro, Strasburg's catcher at San Diego State. "He doesn't do anything out of the ordinary. Pretty much, he does anything a normal pitcher would do."

And then he'll climb the mound and any normalcy about him will cease. Aside from the hordes who crowded around his early bullpen sessions, Strasburg has blended into Nationals spring training, a quiet rookie who rarely speaks if not tacitly invited into a conversation by a veteran. "All ears," Manager Jim Riggleman said.

But tomorrow, Strasburg, for the first time against a team comprised partly of major leaguers, will unveil the right arm that earned him a $15.1 million bonus, that has drawn the comparisons to Nolan Ryan and Dwight Gooden that make him queasy.

It has become the marquee event of spring training, with the Nationals and otherwise, and his teammates are curious, too. "I cannot wait until 1:05," Scott Olsen said. They'll see a new piece of who he is. Drew Storen, another Nationals draft pick, played with Strasburg in the Arizona Fall League, making him one of the Nationals who has seen him pitch in a game.

"He's a bulldog out there," Storen said. "He's one of those guys you like having on your team, because you know he's a competitor. He's so laid-back otherwise, you don't necessarily see that. You'll kind of see a different side of him. I don't know if he'll say he has a different side, but you'll definitely see he turns it up a notch on the mound. It's pretty fun to watch."

So far, teammates have mostly seen the shy and quiet slice Strasburg's personality, the shy kid sitting at his locker, in full uniform an hour before practice, drinking yellow Powerade and eating a bowl of oatmeal and blueberries.

On those occasions Strasburg actually climbed a mound and pitched, there were glimpses into his competitiveness. "He walks that line," Olsen said. "When he gets on that mound, it's like, 'I have a cannon for a right arm, and I'm going to show you all.' "

And still, no matter how impressive Strasburg is in this and his next few starts, the overwhelming likelihood is that he will begin in the minor leagues. Strasburg may well have a one-in-a-billion right arm, but there is more to his profession than throwing. The Nationals want Strasburg to be able to perform every last nuance - pitching from the stretch, fielding the position, holding runners on - with a big-league proficiency. When the Nationals call up Strasburg, they want a full-blown major league pitcher who is there to stay for good and not, to quote one Nationals employee, a "sideshow."

Strasburg has drawn massive attention. One day last week, two sports magazines with his picture on the cover rested on a clubhouse table, and then outside a CBS Evening News camera crew followed him around. Strasburg chose not to speak with reporters today, but he has grown more comfortable with the demand for his time and his signature.

"I think he's learning day by day," said Castro, now an Astros minor leaguer. "In college when it hit, it hit him like a ton of bricks. There would be hundreds of people outside our locker room. It was a little annoying, he'd get frustrated. It overwhelmed him. He's handled it a little better. I think he's handling the best way he can. He's handling it the right way."

Castro referenced Strasburg's marriage this offseason as a positive factor. Storen said, if anything, Strasburg has actually loosened up in the clubhouse compared to the fall league. On the eve of his first start, with so much swarming around him, Strasburg is at ease. As Riggleman said, "He's just in a good place in his life."

And tomorrow, the league will finally see first-hand what the fuss is for.

"You kind of realize," Castro said, "this kid's one in a million."

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 8, 2010; 7:02 PM ET
 
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Next: Stephen Strasburg, the debut and the polls

Comments

"You kind of realize," Castro said, "this kid's one in a million.":

Too bad he isn't five in a million... then he could pitch everyday...

Posted by: Ghost7 | March 8, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

Their team ERA is 10.98

"We're not pitching good, but we're not pitching to a 12.00 ERA, either," Manager Jim Riggleman said.

******************
Jim Riggleman, I love you to death, but WHAT?!!?

There is absolutely NO difference between 10.98 and 12.0 ERA, my friend.

Posted by: NatsNut | March 8, 2010 7:47 PM | Report abuse

r.e. 10.98 vs. 12, I think Riggleman meant that they weren't pitching as bad as the ERA suggested, not that 10.98 was better than 12.

Posted by: wahoo2x | March 8, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

The WHIP isn't really all that pretty either ... wonder what he is looking at?

Posted by: periculum | March 8, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Its going to put a lot of pressure on Rizzo to keep him in the majors if he performs well. And he probably needs to go down for a bit of seasoning ...

Posted by: periculum | March 8, 2010 8:19 PM | Report abuse

If Rizzo feels comfortable that he's going to stay GM through 2017, then he's well motivated to leave SS down until June. If he's not sure, then he's got less to lose by bringing the kid up "early."

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 8, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

Assuming, of course, that he's as cynical and self-serving as all that.

Which he probably is not.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 8, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Riggleman & Rizzo should make some pre-emptive "re-assigned to Minor-league camp" moves, just to begin culling the herd...

Unless they're learning through osmosis, send down the following players: Marrero(1B), Moore(1B), Espinosa(SS), Daniel(CF), Burgess(RF).
Because they're not proving anything new, send down Orr(2B-3B), Taveras(OF), Mench(OF), & Burke(CA); Give their innings to Bynum, Owens, Davis, & Ivany instead and see if there's anything of value.

With the pitching, I'd still like to see all the SP possibles at least once (Strasburg, Jaime & Livo), and the RP's at least twice, but my short-list to SYR/FA currently holds Atilano, Guardado, Peralta & Walker.

Posted by: BinM | March 8, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

The additional bad news is that - for today, at least - they really didn't hit the ball either. Morgan, Zimm, and Dunn looked bad striking out. Willingham's blast in the second was the first real sign of life and that was pretty much it until late in the game. Dukes had a nice hit in the gap and later made a great throw to the plate (but Burke dropped the ball). Desmond played CF late and made a nice play to track down a fly ball in the gap.

All this simply means that we now wait with bated breath for what tomorrow brings.

Posted by: lowcountry | March 8, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I forgot Martis for the SYR/FA 'short-list'; Coming into camp carrying a spare-tire is one thing when you're 30+ & have a track record - When you're 23, it's frowned on.

Posted by: BinM | March 8, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

Tomorrow's possible pitchers (after Strasburg): Atilano, Jaime, Batista, Martis, Peralta, Kensing, Speier, Storen (all RH); Garate(LH). To Riggleman & McCatty; My compliments on your respective 'sense of balance'.

Posted by: BinM | March 8, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

I'm not one to bash the post on baseball coverage -- they'll put writers on the job when the website starts getting hits.

But.....

The local page has a small headline under SPORTS tonight:

Cleveland hires ex-Nats skipper Acta

Amazingly out of touch.

Posted by: hats4bats | March 8, 2010 11:38 PM | Report abuse

With a spring record of 0-6 (The only winless team in all of spring training), an ERA of 10.98 (Worst), 67 total runs allowed (Worst), 61 earned runs, 12 HR (Worst), 28 Walks (5th Worst), 91 total hits allowed (Worst) and 3 hit Batsman (8th Worst), the Nationals welcome Strasburg to the mound. Think they hope he does well today? The mental make-up of the entire team may hinge on his outing – which is not at all what a rookie needs to carry around, no matter who he is.

Think it’s only spring pitching blues? The Nats have scored a total of 30 runs (17th) and rank 26th in batting average with a stellar .242.

How about fielding? 13th best in fielding percentage and 15th worst in errors. A true break-through there!

Yeah, it’s early – FOR EVERYONE. When you rack up 102 and 103 consecutive loss seasons and still have the 2nd lowest payroll in baseball, this all matters. Can the FO manage Strasburg like a 21 year-old rookie or will he be visiting Dr. Andrews mid- 2011 like so many before him in the past three years? (Patterson, Cordero, Chico, Storen, Capps, Stamen, Zimmerman and on and on)

Then you have the mismanagement of Flores’s injury and many, many like him [Kearns, Guzman (feet, shoulder, eyes), Hernandez in ’05 (knee), even Zimmerman who should have been shut down for shoulder surgery in ’08, but instead played through it and never got surgery which will catch up to him]. People forget all of these medical flops, but it is truly astounding and not just bad luck.

The Post is way too upbeat on the Nats. Sure, they are deeper and better across the board (particularly in the bull pen and with young pitching) than ever before in spring training and Bowden isn’t a distraction this year, but the rest of the league didn’t stand still waiting for them to improve. Train wreck coming full speed - again. They are losing on and off the field. I want my tax money back!

They will flirt with 100 losses again and probably have a better second half, but they ain’t good and are a lock for last in NL East if not all of baseball, again. Dunn won’t extend if they don’t get him right now. Zimmerman

Austin Kearns and Manny Acta will both have break-out years in Cleveland. Have a great day!

Posted by: DCSec112 | March 9, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

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