Return of the Strasburg

Stephen Strasburg returned to the Washington Nationals Tuesday, hoping to pick up right where he left off.

Ed Millerby Ed Miller

It had been 381 days since Stephen Strasburg threw a pitch in the majors for the Washington Nationals but after Tommy John surgery and several rehab starts in the minors, he made his season debut on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Once baseball’s biggest prodigy, the 23-year-old Strasburg had fallen out of the spotlight but now hopes he can pick up right where he left off last season.  A former first-round pick by the Nationals in 2009, Strasburg impressed his way through the minors before getting his shot at the big leagues a little over a year after he was drafted.  In his major league debut, he whiffed 14 (one short of the record for a debut), walked none and gave up two runs against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He would eventually finish his first three starts with 32 strikeouts, breaking the record of 29 held by J.R. Richard in 1971.

But many feel he was rushed onto the Nationals and didn’t spend enough time in the minors getting set for what seemed to surely be a promising career.  Instead, he came up, played well and then hit the first speed bump of his young career, which brings us back to last night.

Rain threatened to cancel Strasburg’s big return but as the sparse crowd began to fill in, the tarp came off the field and the game started on time.  In front of his home crowd, Strasburg had a short outing against a Dodgers team who have several big bats that can make a pitcher pay for even the littlest mistake.  But Strasburg looked like he wasn’t phased by last year’s surgery, throwing 56 pitches, 40 of which were strikes.  The biggest worry was that he would lose some of his velocity but so far that doesn’t seem to be an issue.  He averaged 97 mph for his four-seem fastball, and 89 mph on his changeup, giving him the ability to fake his hitters.

He finished the night with five innings in the book, giving up no runs and allowing just two hits to accompany four strikeouts.  There was very little pressure on Strasburg, as the Nationals came out and put three quick runs on the board in the second inning. From there it was easy-pickin’s for the right-hander, even though the Nationals coaching staff watched his pitch count and wanted to start him off with a light load.

Hopefully – for Nationals fans – Strasburg can get four or five more starts under his belt before the end of the season, which should help him gain some good experience going into next season.  The Nationals have paid their dues, and have handled their phenom pitcher’s injury well, now it to develop prospects and then who knows, it might not be too long before they are threatening for a playoff spot.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press.