“I really didn’t know who he was at the time,” Strasburg said. “I remember he was playing third base or something. He looked physically developed. He looked like an 18-year-old out there.”
The passing encounter served as the first stroke of fate that brought together Strasburg and Harper, the twin forces who would shape the Washington Nationals. The franchise ebbed at the perfect moment, finishing at the bottom of the major leagues at the point Strasburg and Harper became eligible for the draft. They chose Strasburg first overall in 2009, then Harper in 2010. Ever since, they waited for this moment.
“Nobody could have drawn it up the way it happened,” said Hector Lorenzana, one of the Show’s coaches.
On Monday, Strasburg will take the mound and Harper will jog to left field at Nationals Park, their first opening day together. Two and a half years removed from his elbow reconstruction, Strasburg no longer pitches under an innings limit. The 2012 rookie of the year trophy resting on his mantle, Harper’s days in the minors are behind him. As the Nationals embark on their first season as an established contender, their phenoms have no caveats attached. They will have Harper at the start and Strasburg at the end.
A natural, understood connection
Already, at 24 and 20, Strasburg and Harper may form the most overpowering tandem in baseball. Harper last season accumulated more wins above replacement — a statistic created to show the value of a player to his team — than any teenager in baseball history. Strasburg’s 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings are the most ever for a starting pitcher with at least 250 career innings.
Says Harper: “When he’s pitching, we’re all excited to watch. Everything can be different that game. Something could happen that you never see ever again, because he’s pitching and he’s unbelievable.”
Says Strasburg: “He’s a little more the aggressive type. He’ll go out there, and he’ll try to take the extra bag. Sometimes, it’s going to burn him. That’s one thing that enables him to do things you’ve never seen before. You never see guys hitting flares over the shortstop for a stand-up double. You don’t see that.”
They have been linked on the Nationals’ figurative marquee and in other, almost cosmic ways. The Nationals drafted Harper on June 7, 2010 — the night before Strasburg made his major league debut. Harper’s first trip to Washington came Aug. 26 of that year — the day before the Nationals announced Strasburg would undergo Tommy John surgery.