“They’re driven,” Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said. “Just look at ’em.”
Each man says he has added 10 pounds of muscle since last season when they were already both all-stars. The change in Strasburg, as if he somehow also redirected another 10 pounds directly to his shoulders, makes your head snap. His ligaments and tendons didn’t always withstand the stresses of his old power package. What now? Nolan Ryan never looked like this.
Humans are required to possess a waist, but both these men seem determined to break that law. The pitcher and hitter, at 233 and 230 pounds respectively, look like 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-3 Rodin sculptures.
How high the Nationals soar this season, and the next several as well, depends on many factors. But be honest: No element is as vital as how high the ceilings of Strasburg and Harper prove to be. And how durable they are. Both were all-stars last year. How much more can they be? Backbones of a glory era, with Strasburg under Nats control at least four more years and Harper for six? Or more than that, true greats? The verdict is as vague as the prospect of watching the answer unfold is thrilling.
Neither minces words about his immediate intentions.
“I had a decent year,” said Strasburg, who was 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and the highest strikeouts-per-inning rate in baseball among starters last season. “My expectations are pretty high.”
Because Strasburg is the ultimate introvert, that’s practically a declaration of war. Asked if he was looking forward to a “normal” season with no injuries to discuss or innings-shutdown controversies to negotiate, he said, “It’ll probably never be normal. That’s all right. I understand my role.”
Clearly, he doesn’t think that role stops at 15-6. The pitcher Johnson often compares to Strasburg is Dwight Gooden. Doc was 17-9 as a teenage rookie in 1984. The next year, he was 24-4, his best season ever.
Strasburg is far older: 25 in July. Few players with such talent and hoopla have pitched so few innings by that age. He’s practically unused. Yet he’s also polished and ready to unleash. The current theory says that if you haven’t been burned out and damaged by 25, you may have a long career. Strasburg achieved the dubious distinction by accident. If he doesn’t break, he’s at the age when the great power pitchers put up monster seasons.
Harper says his only goal is “World Series.” But he lets the truth slip out around the edges: “There are [personal] goals in my head, but I’m not going to share them. People will think I’m crazy.”