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Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg's Last Minor League Start?

You would not, at the time, have been alone in thinking that the Washington Nationals' 2009 no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg's June 3, 2010 start for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, the Nats' top affiliate, would be the right-hander's last start in the minor leagues. The top pitching prospect in baseball at the time followed up on a (13-1) season at San Diego State University in which he'd posted a 1.32 ERA in 15 starts, 2 complete games and 109.0 IP over which he allowed 59 hits, 16 ER, and 19 BB (1.57 BB/9) while recording 195 K's (16.1K/9), with a quick AFL experience, a taste of Spring Training and eleven starts in the Nats' system. 

Strasburg's eleventh and final start before his June 8th debut took place in Coca-Cola Stadium in Buffalo, NY against the NY Mets' Triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons. Strasburg held the Bisons off the board that night over 5.0 IP, giving up just 3 hits and a walk while collecting 5 K's. The then-21-year-old first-year pro threw 89 pitches, 54 for strikes, got 6 groundouts, 4 flyouts and the win to improve to (4-1) in 6 starts and 33.1 Triple-A innings pitched in which he gave up 18 hits, 5 runs, 4 earned, 1 HR and 7 walks while striking out 38 batters and holding opponents to a .154 BAA in his month at the highest level of the minor leagues...

The top pick in the '09 Draft, considered one of the best prospects to come along in a generation, was then set to make his major league debut five days later on June 8, 2010, a day short of a year after the Washington Nationals took him with their first 1st Round selection. In 11 minor league starts, Strasburg was (7-2) with a 1.30 ERA, .158 BAA, 10.26 K/9, 1.89 BB/9, and 1 HR allowed in 55.1 IP. There wasn't a bigger story in baseball at the time. The right-hander with the triple-digit fastball, pinpoint control, devastating change and cartoon curve had quickly shown minor league hitters were no match for his stuff. 

Strasburg's arrival promised a new era for Nats fans, one in which the right-hander would silence the critics who'd constantly demeaned them as the lowly Nats, the NL East's doormats. The eyes of the entire baseball world were focused on the nation's capital for the first time in decades as the debut of the top pitching prospect approached. Then-Nats' president Stan Kasten told ESPN 980's "The Sports Fix" with Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro that though the hype which surrounded Strasburg's rise hadn't quite reached "World Series level" which he'd experienced in Atlanta, it had gotten, "...well into postseason levels. LCS level, is it World Series level yet? It's something bordering on that, and the attention on one player is something I've never been through before." 

After ending his minor league run with a five-inning-outing in which he'd K'd five, Strasburg debuted five days later with 14 K's in 7.0 IP against the Pirates in a sold-out Nationals Park. The right-hander was somehow better than advertised. The hype had been warranted and it continued until he injured his elbow two months later. A little under a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Strasburg's set to make his last rehab start tonight, and then if all goes as planned, he'll return to Nationals Park next Tuesday. 

Strasburg will face the Portland Sea Dogs, the Boston Red Sox' Double-A affiliate tonight in Harrisburg, PA in his sixth minor league rehab start. He's scheduled to throw 80 pitches or five innings, whichever comes first. Will this be Stephen Strasburg's last minor league start? Barring any setbacks tonight or before next Tuesday, Strasburg will return to the Nats' rotation for the rest of the season.

When he spoke to reporters last season after having surgery on his elbow the right-hander said his goal going forward was getting to the point he's at now and once again pitching in front of the nation's capitals fans. "I know they're going to be there when I come back in a year, so I'm not too worried about it and I'm going to work as hard as I possibly can to get back out there and show everybody what I have to bring to the table." He's one rehab start away from doing that, barring any setbacks, or hiccups.