Saturday, June 12, 2010
STRASBURG - BUZZ FROM THE BELTWAY
WASHINGTON—The buzz along the beltway would make you think that Democrats and Republicans have actually agreed on something.
Of course, in the case of Stephen Strasburg, there may be total unanimity among Democrats, Republicans and Tea Partiers, whoever and whatever they are with their holstered guns, bund-type placards and salivating cheers for Sarah Palin—and if she isn’t in the process of running for President why does she appear at every gathering of more than three people with her built in Fox antenna?
I mean, from a 60th birthday party in upscale Bethesda to lunch conversation in the Rayburn House Office Building to the youthful chatter in the packed bars of Georgetown (what recession?), as a visiting baseball writer, I swear Strasburg is the only subject of conversation amid general agreement that he is the real deal.
Of course, a lot of that is built on hope.
This is a city that went to only two World Series in 71 years and then lost two baseball franchises—one to the Twin Cities and another to Texas--before waiting 33 years for another, not to mention that the beloved Redskins and other area pro teams haven’t produced much to applaud recently.
At 21, in his major league debut Tuesday, Strasburg struck out 14 (including the last seven batters he faced) and walked none in seven innings of a 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Well, ok, it was the Pirates, but his three digit fastballs and assortment of breaking pitches tended to go beyond hope and hype. We’ll know more as after he faces the Cleveland Indians Sunday and continues to face major league hitters on a regular basis.
The real point here goes back to a recent blog in which I pointed out that major league teams are wasting no time moving young pitchers through their farm systems, reducing salaries at the major league level and saving those young bullets for major league hitters.
The recent draft of amateur players was another call to arms.
Five of the top nine selections were pitchers, as were 11 of the top 19 and half of the 32 players picked in the first round.
There is simply wide spread consensus that young pitchers today have received better training, are mechanically sounder, and that expansion has created a greater need, particularly with the turnover of the last few years seeing such veterans as Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Pedro Martrinez fade from the scene.
Check out major league rotations and they are filled with pitchers in their mid-20s or younger.
No need to repeat all the names that I mentioned in that previous blog.
Where Strasburg, the former San Diego State right hander who was the Nationals’ No. 1 pick in last year’s draft and had made only a handful of minor league appearances before his debut, goes from here remains to be seen.
Some cynics contend that the media has fallen victim again to hype of the type that surrounded the debut of David Clyde in 1973. Clyde was a Houston high school sensation when drafted first by the Texas Rangers and rushed immediately to the major leagues, where he would appear in parts of five seasons with Texas and Cleveland before retiring with a sore arm and an 18-33 career record.
Clyde was only 16 when he debuted with the Rangers, did not have the benefit of college maturation or even a half season of minor league training, and wasn’t prepared physically or mentally to deal with the unfortunate expectations thrust on him by then Rangers owner Bob Short, hoping to invigorate attendance.
Strasburg has much more going for him, including a bank account of about $15 million, a draft record. He also has the benefit of an improving team that also had the No. 1 pick this year and selected Southern Nevada catcher Bryce Harper, who may ultimately find a niche in the outfield rather than behind the plate.
Harper is only 17 and may be a few years away from being Strasburg’s potential battery mate despite gaudy offensive statistics as an amateur. In the meantime, the Washington Post has already initiated a poster promotion for Strasburg, the Indians have sold more than 8,000 tickets since it was announced he would pitch Sunday and he is the talk of the town, which is quite something in this town.