It will not be his first priority, and it may or may not be on his mind, but when he steps on the mound tonight for Class AA Harrisburg, Stephen Strasburg can clinch a division title.
The Senators earned a playoff spot last night with their 2-1 victory over Portland and moved one win or one Richmond loss, with five games to go, from sealing the Western Division crown in the Eastern League. As chance would have it, Strasburg will be the first starter with a chance to earn that win. He’ll be making his final minor league rehab start before he returns to the majors from Tommy John surgery next Tuesday.
Strasburg will have rehab company tonight in Ivan Rodriguez, who will be making his third rehab appearance as he returns from a strained right oblique that has held him out since early July. Rodriguez caught seven innings Tuesday night, and he hopes to return in time to catch Strasburg’s comeback start, just as he caught his debut last year.
Late Wednesday night, Harrisburg players huddled and sprayed champagne in their clubhouse. A little later, Class A Potomac also clinched a playoff spot with a 6-3 victory over Lynchburg.
The Nationals feel there is a definite benefit to their minor league teams experiencing a pennant race. The players get the taste of winning. They learn how to play with the stakes raised. The winning generates camaraderie.
“That’s a totally different atmosphere,” Nationals director of player development Doug Harris said. “It’s very advantageous for a minor league player to experience that. How you respond in those situations is very important.”
Potomac made the playoffs last season, too, but this year there is a distinct improvement. Last year, Potomac players averaged 23.5 years old. This year, they shaved a full year off that average, at 22.5 years old, and that’s with 18-year-old Bryce Harper bypassing them. Two of their most prominent and prominent players, outfielders Destin Hood and Eury Perez, are 21.
Harrisburg, which is currently, 78-59 has an average age of 25 years old, which is on the old side for Class AA, but only a little. And plenty of their primary contributors are right at the age you would want, if not younger. Catcher Derek Norris, a top catching prospect headed to the Arizona Fall League, is 22. Pitcher Brad Peacock, who starred for Harrisburg most of the season, is 23. Bryce Harper, obviously, is 18.
Will Harper play? He wants to return from his strained hamstring in time for the playoffs, but the Nationals are taking it day-to-day. One person with knowledge in Harrisburg indicated Harper will likely not play in the postseason, but nothing has been decided yet.
If you’re interested in trying to watch some of these postseason games: Barring a virtual miracle for Richmond, the Senators will open their three-out-of-five playoff series in Harrisburg next Wednesday and Thursday, then play on the road Friday and Saturday. If necessary, the deciding Game 5 will be played next Sunday in Harrisburg.
The schedule for Potomac is still being decided, based on the winner of the second half title.
FROM THE POST
One night after an outburst, the Nationals reverted back to their meager offensive norm in a 3-1 loss to the Braves and Derek Lowe.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 3, Buffalo 1: Jesus Valdez went 2 for 4. Brad Meyers allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings on seven hits and no walks, striking out five. Doug Slaten allowed one hit and struck out one in 2/3 of an inning.
Harrisburg 2, Portland 1: Tyler Moore went 2 for 4 with a double. Tim Pahuta went 2 for 3 with a home run. Erik Arnesen allowed no earned runs in seven innings on four hits and no walks, striking out nine. Rafael Martin pitched a perfect ninth, striking out two.
Potomac 6, Lynchburg 3: Zachary Walters went 2 for 4 with a double and a walk. Adam Olbrychowski allowed one run in 7 1/3 innings on two hits and one walk, striking out six.
Hagerstown was off.
Jamestown 3, Auburn 2: Matt Skole went 2 for 5 with two doubles.