Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg, One Year Later Press Conference And Debut Review.

Stephen Strasburg goes out and throws every day, working his was back from Tommy John surgery. The repetitive nature of the work, Strasburg knows, is designed to slowly build up the strength of his surgically repaired elbow. That doesn't mean it's fun, or that Viera, Florida is where he wants to be right now. The 22-year-old starter, whose arrival in the nation's capital and the major leagues was obsessed over for months in advance isn't even sure when he'll get to leave the Nats' training facilities. "I can't really tell you how much longer I'm going to be in Viera," Strasburg said during a teleconference last night, "it's not my call. It's been going very smoothly so far, I've been on schedule, everything feels great, and that's all I can really focus on right now. The Nationals are going to have to make a decision at some point on when they want to send me up and it's going to be their call." 

Strasburg's already back throwing off a mound, putting in the work he and the Nationals hope will result in his eventually return to Washington's rotation, but it's seems it's not the work as much as the boredom that's a challenge for the young pitcher. "Not so much the physical rehab. A lot of it's mental," Strasburg explained, "When you first start throwing, you've kinda gotta realize that everything's good inside you and you just need to let it happen. Now it's just trying to stay sane down in Florida when you're pretty much doing the same thing every day."

Two years in a row, the Nationals lost their top pitching prospect to Tommy John. The top prospect in the Nats' system before they drafted Strasburg no.1 overall in 2010, Jordan Zimmermann's been pointed to repeatedly as an example of how a pitcher can come back at full-strength following the process Strasburg's currently experiencing, and he told reporters he now realizes what his future top-of-the-rotation mate went through. "He's such a hard worker and he's a bulldog out there," Strasburg said, "and I know that if I just do the time down here in Florida that everything's going to work out and I'm just so happy for the kid cause obviously going through it now I realize everything that he had to go through last year and he worked his butt off and he's being rewarded." 

The idea is to put graded stress on the new ligament," Strasburg said when asked for specifics about the process. I'm throwing three bullpens a week and from anywhere to 30 fastballs to 40 fastballs and it wil pick up a little bit every week. I'm not really sure what's going to be in store for me next month or the month after that. We're just taking it one day at a time, one week at a time." The goal of the work he's doing now, Strasburg says, is to, "...throw it nice and easy and fluid and maintain proper mechanics. That's the biggest thing right now, is trying to work on getting the timing back and just getting the mechanics down and once everything's set in stone and I've thrown enough pitches in bullpens and stuff then I can start cranking it up in games." 

Will cranking it up include starting to throw his curve again? "They haven't really told me yet," Strasburg said, "but I'm sure it will be soon. I'm at a little past nine months now and I know they have a schedule in place, but like I said, we're just taking it one day at a time, one week at a time."

A year after his first major league start, Strasburg was asked if he thinks back on that night and what he remembers when he does?

"It's something that I've dreamed of since I was a little kid and to finally make that a reality was just an incredible experience. I remember bits and pieces and stuff, I don't really remember how I pitched certain guys and everything, I just remember going out before the game and stretching, and looking up in the crowd and really soaking it all in. I remember [Steve] McCatty tipping his hat to all the fans as we walked down the line and I remember getting the shaving cream in my face at the end, but as far as everything that went on during the game, that was all a blur." 

"I haven't really thought about it much to be honest. It's something that was an amazing experience but it's kind of foggy right now. I'm really focused on living in the now, and I've got a lot of work to do and I've got a lot of work ahead of me. So my right now is to get back to 100%, to go out there and fill up the stadium like I did on that day."

• Stephen Strasburg: A Day In The Life:

• June 7, 2010: Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. is an event town. I can't tell you how many times I've been told this about the nation's capital in the five years since my Expos relocated from Montreal to D.C., when I've wondered aloud why it was that MLB was determined to relocate the first major league team to play outside of the United States to a city that had already lost two franchises to relocation and hadn't had a team call it home in over 30 years. That first year, in 2005, or at least the first half of it, those who told me about Washington, D.C. were right. The return of baseball to the nation's capital was an event. Fans packed RFK Stadium that first season, 33,651 a game (according to The Baseball Almanac's figures), as the Nationals got off to an improbable start, holding on to first place in the NL East as late as July 24th before a second-half free fall saw them go from 52-36 before to 29-45 after the All-Star Break.

In 2006 the Nationals went from 81 wins to 71, and 33,651 a game became 26,582. In '07, the first year under Manny Acta, the Nats managed to win 73 but drew only an average of 24,271. The 2008 season saw a jump in attendance when the opening of Nationals Park once again made going to a game an event, but the novelty wore off quickly as the Nats stumbled through a 102-loss season, and with 103 losses in 2009 the average attendance dropped to 22,716 per game. The low point, however, came on Opening Day 2010, when busloads of Phillies fans drove down from Citizens Bank, invading a park of stunned Nationals fans who had no idea how so many out-of-town fans had procured tickets to what is supposed to be the biggest home game on the schedule, but without opposing teams' fans buying up half of the seats, the Nats' have drawn just over 20,000 per game through the first 24 home games of 2010.

Coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons, and an Opening Day that was ruined for many, not even a Nationals team that has exceeded expectations, hovering around .500 later in the season than they have since the inaugural '05 campaign, has drawn fans to the park. But He can. ESPN.com's Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) documented the spike in ticket sales for the Nats/Pirates game on Twitter back on May 31st when the Nationals confirmed the June 8th debut of the no.1 pick of the 2009 Draft, Stephen Strasburg:

"The Nationals announced at about 7 p.m. that Strasburg is making his debut on June 8. At 8:30 p.m., I checked on their site for best...available seats for that date -- and it said right field corner. Now, at 9, it's saying no seats available. No official word on sellout yet."

Stephen Strasburg will make his MLB debut one day short of a year after he was selected out of San Diego State University on June 9, 2009. Strasburg was identified as the top prospect available in the '09 Draft more than a year before Bud Selig announced the Nats' pick. Nats fans followed his SDSU starts online. D.C. beat reporters started making pilgrimages to Tony Gwynn Stadium in San Diego to document his rise. After signing with Washington in mid-August just moments before the deadline to ink the year's draft picks, Strasburg went to the Florida instructional league where his first start was televised on ESPN. Strasburg's Arizona Fall League starts drew fans and writers all the way out to Phoenix and Surprise, Ariz., and put a national spotlight on Arizona Fall League games that previously had drawn little attention. Strasburg's first spring training start was on ESPN and the MLB Network. His minor league starts -- mostly sellouts -- have been broadcast locally in DC and nationally, and now his major league debut is on the MLB Network on Tuesday and there aren't many tickets to be found for a midweek game against the Pirates that is seen as a turning point for the D.C. franchise.

Buster Olney provided one last update on ticket sales:

"Update this AM: Lowest price on Stubhub for Strasburg game tix is now $55. His starts, at the outset, will be an event, like a rock concert."

If it's an event, the fans will be there. Will every Strasburg start be the same? We'll see. As for Strasburg's first start, good luck getting in, Nats fans.

• June 8, 2010 - 7:47 am: 

Washington Nationals' team President Stan Kasten appeared on The LaVar Arrington with Chad Dukes Show Monday afternoon to talk about the Nats' big week with the selection of College of Southern Nevada catcher/outfielder Bryce Harper no.1 overall in the 2010 Draft and the debut of the Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg Tuesday night in Nationals Park against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates. Asked by Mr. Dukes what it's like going back into negotiations with super agent Scott Boras, Mr. Kasten responded by saying, "First of all, Scott is my man, we've been doing this dance for years and years. Here's what I think about it, there's no argument that he can give that's going to persuade me of anything, there's no argument I can give him that will persuade him of anything, we just have to do what we do and we'll get there at the end. I have been saying this about Scott in the last few days and I think it's worth repeating and write it down cause you may not hear me say it very often...":

Stan Kasten: "Last year, when [Scott Boras] was talking about Strasburg, he was not exaggerating. How 'bout that?"

Signed out of San Diego State University, the now-21-year-old Strasburg finished the 2009 season (13-1) with a 1.32 ERA, allowing 59 hits, 16 ER, 19 walks (1.57 BB/9), and ringing up a ridiculous 195 K's (16.10 K/9) in 109 innings pitched, was drafted no.1 by the Nats and then took the summer off while Mr. Boras and the Nats worked out a 4-year/$15.1 million dollar major league deal that finally brought the flame-throwing right-hander into the Nationals' system, where the dominance continued.

In the Arizona Fall League, which was not known as a pitcher-friendly league until the last two seasons when Atlanta Braves' right-hander Tommy Hanson and then Stephen Strasburg were the talk of the league, the future Nats' ace threw for the Phoenix Desert Dogs, compiling a (4-1) record in 5 starts over which the 6'4'', 220lb right-hander was (4-1), with a 4.26 ERA in 19.0 IP, surrendering 15 hits, 10 runs (9 earned), 3 HR's and 7 BB (3.32 BB/9), while collecting 23 K's (10.89 K/9), and posting a 1.16 WHIP.

Strasburg made 3 starts in Spring Training, in which he was (1-0), with 2.00 ERA in 3 GS and 9.0 IP giving up 8 hits, 2 ER, 2 HR, 1 BB, with 12 K's, and was good enough that he was a little surprised, reportedly, that he was actually sent to the Minor Leauges, telling Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore at the time, as quoted in a Nationals Journal post entitled, "Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen to start in Class AA Harrisburg", that he, "...felt like I had an opportunity, a chance to make the majors out of camp,":

"'There's always that thought in my head. Everybody is competing for a job here. I felt like I was included, but you know, it's all good. I'm going to go down to Harrisburg and learn what I need to learn and be ready to be called up, hopefully soon.'"

Strasburg was once again dominant at Double-AA Harrisburg, where under a crush of reporters, who followed the young pitcher from start to start documenting every pitch he threw, Strasburg was able to succeed, going (3-1) in 5 starts and 22.0 IP, and giving up 7 hits, 9 runs (4 earned) and 6 BB (2.45 BB/9) with 27 K's (11.05 K/9), 1.64 ERA, and 0.86 WHIP. In Triple-A Syracuse Strasburg was (4-1) in 6 starts with a 1.08 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 7 walks (1.89 BB/9) allowed and 38 K's (10.26 K/9) in 33.1 innings pitched, after which he got the call. 

Back on The LaVar Arrington Show with Chad Dukes, the Nats' team President Mr. Kasten said that the pressure and the hype of his quick rise through the system hasn't affected the team's top prospect, "It's not fazing him," Mr. Kasten explained, "...not in any way I can tell. Everywhere he goes he performs superbly, everywhere he goes he's really respected by his teammates because he makes sure that he is one of them, and takes great pains to not get any special treatments anywhere he goes, so that's all I can tell you, I know how he performs on the mound, I know how his teammates feel about him, and that's a pretty good combination,":

"He's used his skills and his maturity off the field to become a terrific teammate. I'd say he's handling this...now remember, no one's ever been through this before and I mean that seriously, no one has ever entered baseball with this kind of hype and this kind of attention, and yet here he is performing beautifully, feet on the ground, I'd say he's handled it about as well as anyone ever could."

Tonight at 7:00 pm EST, the entirety of NatsTown finally gets their reward for suffering through the 102-loss 2008 campaign with the Nats, a day after the team drafted another once-in-a-generation prospect in Bryce Harper as the reward for last season's dismal results. Just about every seat in Nationals Park is sold out. The game is being televised nationally on the MLB Network. As of last count over 200 press passes had been issued. All the hype that's gone before will pale in comparison to what Stephen Strasburg experiences tonight, but the difference will be that now NatsTown is a part of it. Stephen Strasburg has arrived.

• June 8, 2010 - 6:20 pm:

There has been a buzz in Nationals Park for hours now. Originally generated by the 230-250 or so members of the media who requested credentials, but it's slowly grown now that the fans are filing in. 40 minutes before Stephen Strasburg throws his first pitch he just walked out to the bullpen to stretch and begin his pregame routine, and a wave of applause grew and followed him as the distracted fans realized that the player in the red sweatshirt walking out to the outfield with Nats' pitching coach Steve McCatty was the player baseball writers, television analysts, personalities and local dignitaries have all come out to see. Stephen Strasburg is in the right field corner of Nationals Park preparing to throw his first pitch, in less than 30 minutes now the park will momentarily light up as several thousand camera flashes capture the moment when Stephen Strasburg finally uncorks his first high-90's heater and officially begins his Major League career.

• June 8, 2010 - 7:05 pm EDT: 

Tonight's Top 5: 

5. Stephen Strasburg Is Here: With the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" blaring over Nationals Park's loudspeakers, Strasburg throws two-straight balls the capacity crowd thinks are strikes then gets a line drive to Ian Desmond to record his first Major League out. The Stephen Strasburg era has officially begun. It takes Strasburg 11 pitches to get through the first, 8 of them fastballs ranging from 97-99 and three of them curves, including two-straight to Lastings Milledge for a swinging K to end Strasburg's first Major League inning. Asked after the game to go over that first strike out, Nats' catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, who fought back from lower back issues to make it into the game tonight, makes it short and sweet: 

Pudge Rodriguez: "I think we did fastball, fastball, curve ball...and that's it. Very quick."

"Fastball, curve ball, curve ball," one reporter corrected the catcher. 

"Yeah, very quick," Pudge Rodriguez responded with a huge smile. 

4. THE KIDS CALL HIM ZIM!! THE KIDS CALL HIM ZIM!!! Solo shot to right-center with two down in the Nats' first and the Face of the Nats' franchise just gave the Arm of the Nats' Franchise his first lead. Zimmerman's 12th HR of the year comes on an 0-1 fastball from Pirates' starter Jeff Karstens and goes out to right-center and over the out-of-town scoreboard for a 1-0 Nats' lead...

3. Delwyn Young Goes Yard!! The Mighty Stras didn't make a mistake, Young went down to get a low 1-0 change, and lifted it to right-center, over the out-of-town scoreboard for just the second HR of the season hit off Strasburg at any level and the first he's surrendered in his Major League Career. 2-1 Pirates after four innings. In the post game press conference, however, the Nats' Future Hall of Fame catcher said that this one wasn't on Strasburg: 

Pudge Rodriguez: "This kid is unbelievable. The most amazing thing to me is that he's around the plate, he throws strikes and he's always in the strike zone. Especially guys that young like Stephen, you know, they always come and get behind in the count, but he didn't do that today. He just attacked the strike zone, we threw some breaking balls for strikes, I mean pretty much all the breaking balls we called Stephen threw for strikes....there was one changeup that I shouldn't have called, I should have gone with the fastball, but that's part of the game..."

2. SHAKE N BAKE!!! SHAKE N BAKE!!! Adam Dunn goes deeeeeeeep to right and out of the park off Pirates' right-hander Jeff Karstens to give the Nats' and Strasburg a 3-2 lead in the seventh. And Josh Willingha--STOP HAMMER TIME!!! Josh Willingham goes deeeeeeep to left and GONE!!! 4-2 Nats!!!! Jeff Karstens is no Strasburg!! And the Kid is in line for a win!!! Willingham and Dunn both hit their 11th home runs back-to-back to put the Nationals up 3-2 and then 4-2 and give the Washington Nationals and Stephen Strasburg the lead after six. 

1. I BELIEVE!!!! I BELIEVE!!!! Stephen Strasburg is done after 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 HR, 14 K's, 94 pitches, 65 strikes, 5 groundouts, 1 flyout and he leaves with a 4-2 lead, in line for his first Major League win. But it's how he ends the game that really cemented this as one of, if not thee greatest nights in the short history of the Washington Nationals, striking out 8 of the last nine batters he faces including 7-straight to end his first major league start, after which he leaves the mound to applause unlike anything anyone has ever heard coming from the DC Faithful, who showed up more than 40,000 strong to support the '09 no.1 overall pick, and then, when he came back out for a curtain call showered him in another rapturous ovation. Asked what it was he would remember about his MLB debut, the Nats' future current ace got off the best line of the night too: 

Stephen Strasburg: "You know the only thing I really remember is the first pitch, and it was a ball inside. Everything else is just such a blur. At one point I lost track of how many innings I threw, and it was like, man, you know what, I'm just going to go out there and have fun and it's amazing, you know, it's kinda like when you get married and everything, you go into it wanting to remember everything and once it's done you can't remember a single thing." 

• Miss The Game? The DC Faithful Were Watching...

Num Name - Comments
1 TJL - 99
2 Nationalpastime - 99
3 RoscoeNats - 78
4 bluelineswinger - 70
5 Miss B - 70
6 BloggerVance - 68
7 PhDBrian - 67
8 grizzy - 59
9 brook 32
10 Dave at NNN - 27
11 Tmv950 - 25

 

• Doghouse's Post Game WPA Graph: "Game 59, Believe The HYPE!!"

20100608_pirates_nationals_0_66_lbig__medium

via www.fangraphs.com

  • MOAR KAYZ!! Stephen Strasburg (+17.1%) strikes out 14, walks none, and gives up 2 ER in 7 IP.
  • DINGERZ!! Adam Dunn (+31.9%), Ryan Zimmerman (+14.7%) and Josh Willingham (+5.4%) all go yard, racking up all of the Nationals' RBI with the long ball (the run-scoring Ivan Rodriguez GDP was technically not an RBI... glad to have you back, Pudge, now stop making so many outs).
  • Just a flesh wound: Stras gives up a two-run bomb to put the Nats behind in his one "struggling" inning (-21.3%).
  • No challenge: Dunn0r yanks his own two-run shot to the upper deck in RF to put the Nats ahead for good (+26.8%).
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