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Posted at 12:24 PM ET, 06/08/2012

Stephen Strasburg will face the Red Sox two years after his debut

(Alex Brandon - AP)
Strasmas was two years ago today. It seems hard to believe. Stephen Strasburg debuted for a Nationals team that would finish 69-93, the third-worst record in the majors. He threw a changeup in the 12th start of his career and tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The Nationals held their breath until he came back in September 2011, in the middle of a hot streak that helped them finish 80-81. Strasburg will start tonight for a first-place team, and he is on the short list of the best pitchers in the game. A lot has happened. A lot has changed.

On the day of his debut, he did not hint at what he is capable of. He shoved it your face and crammed it down your throat. He put it on a neon billboard. There were no ifs that night. Everything was there. And still, Nationals officials say Strasburg has evolved as a pitcher. He pitches with better command and focuses less on the radar gun. He is not preoccupied with the notion, but he believes there are more levels he can reach.

“I can’t really sit there and worry about that,” Strasburg said earlier this season. “I don’t think I’m as strong as I’ll ever get. I don’t have the best command that I could ever have. It’s such a day-in, day-out grind. I’m not going sit here and say all I’ve done so far is all I’ve got. I know I’ve got more in the tank. At the same time, I’m not going to focus on that. I’m just going to focus on helping this team win.”

Even despite missing that year to recover from Tommy John surgery, Strasburg has been everything the Nationals could have hoped for. 4.6 wins above replacement, per, ranks second in his draft class behind Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley, the second pick.

He’ll take the mound at Fenway Park tonight at 6-1, with a 2.35 ERA and 79 strikeouts and 17 walks in 65 innings. His fastball is the hardest of any starter in the game. His curveball bends like a Frisbee. His changeup is a magic trick.

It feels like Strasburg has been around forever, what with the exhaustive coverage connecting him to the Nationals since before he threw a pitch in his final college season at San Diego State. But he is still only 23. It feels like there is already so much behind him, but there is so much more ahead.

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