Stephen Strasburg's first start of 2011 won't be his first start on a Davey Johnson-managed team. A then 19-year-old Strasburg pitched for Johnson on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team in Beijing. In his first start against the Netherlands, the San Diego State University right-hander threw six no-hit innings, and ended up allowing just one hit over seven innings pitched in which he struck out 11 and earned the win.
"He was the only amateur I had on the Olympic team," Johnson said. "After talking to a lot of our scouts, we reviewed all the minor leaguers, and a lot of times the organization's protect their no. 1 draftees, even when they're in the first year. I know the Yankees wouldn't let me have [Phil] Hughes, he was in Tampa I think at the time, so I heard about [Strasburg] and his stuff and he was doing it under Tony Gwynn in San Diego, I said, 'Yeah, I can probably find a spot for him.' Then when I had him on the Olympics he started his first game against the Dutch, who I was very familiar with, all their hitters, he had that no hitter through six innings, I said, 'Holy moly.' I looked over at Marcel Lachemann, the pitching coach, and I said, 'He's got a no-hitter through six, we've got to pray he gives up a hit so I can hook him,' and he did give up a hit and we won that game 7-0. Now seeing him get to the big leagues in a very short time and now he's coming back and pitching again, for me, I'm excited."
Strasburg made his second start for the U.S. Olympic team in the Semi-Finals against the Cuban national team, giving up 6 hits and 3 runs in 4.0 IP in which he struck out five without walking a batter. The U.S. team lost that game 10-2 and Strasburg took the loss, which left him with a (1-1) record and a 2.45 ERA for the Olympics.
Strasburg was also (1-1) over six rehab starts throughout the Nats' system, allowing 14 hits and nine runs, eight earned in 20.1 IP over which he walked just three and struck out 29. Though Strasburg was able to make it through all his rehab starts without any setbacks, hiccups, or rain delays setting him back, the weather might change the Nats' plans for the '09 no. 1 overall pick tomorrow. The forecast calls for rain all day and night. "If he warms up and it rains," Johnson said, "We'll probably have to do it another day. If there's any delay, it's something you don't want whether it was Strasburg or any other pitcher, any kind of rain delay, he's done. So hopefully, we'll have no rain, he'll get his work in and we can move on."
Wilson Ramos will most likely be behind the plate tomorrow night, according to the Nats' Skipper. "I'll probably catch my no. 1 catcher," Johnson told reporters, "I know I'm probably going to get two or three other guys who would like to catch him, but I'll probably go with my no.1." Johnson said he's also been going back and looking at Jordan Zimmermann's late 2010 outings in preparation for Strasburg's September starts.
"I've looked at [Zimmermann's] history," Johnson said, "What he did the first year after and how many starts he had and how many pitches he threw. He threw a really good ballgame the first time out, and then he had a couple days where he threw a lot of pitches and only went three innings. I'm not using that as a guide, but I wanted to see if maybe coming back from that injury he'd have a tired arm quicker. But I'll go by what I see Stras gives me. But I did want to look back at what Zimmermann went through."
"I actually [pulled Zimmermann] in my office to talk to him about how he felt coming back in his rehab the first year," Johnson said, "As opposed to how he felt this year, so that gives me a little idea of what I might go through [with Strasburg.]" Asked what it meant for the organization to have Strasburg return to the rotation Tuesday night, Johnson said, "Any time anybody projected to be in the starting staff comes back you're excited about it, and he's projected to be our no.1 guy, so that should be a lot more buzz and a lot more excitement. He came up here with such fanfare, and with a pedigree from playing under Tony Gwynn (at SDSU), to playing for me in the Olympics, to having a great opening here, we're all anxious to see him come back and be healthy."
Barring a rainout, Strasburg will be back in Nationals Park tomorrow night.