“I feel like I’ve proven that I can do it,” Strasburg said. “Now it’s just almost old news. But there’s nothing wrong with that. It just shows that everybody expects you to do that.”
Strasburg’s season will grow complicated in late summer, when the Nationals likely will remove their ace from their rotation, possibly during a pennant race. That moment will be a reminder of his scars and the high stakes his ability creates for his health, but it remains months away. Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Strasburg, 23, will make his seventh start this season simply as one of the best pitchers in baseball, maybe the very best.
“I think right now, yeah, he is,” Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “There are guys who are more accomplished. If you want to win a game right now, who do you want? There’s no doubt.”
Strasburg, named the National League’s pitcher of the month for April, has a 1.66 ERA, 38 strikeouts and seven walks in 38 innings. His curveball defies physics. His change-up darts like a balloon losing air. After hitters see Strasburg’s fastball, catcher Wilson Ramos, says, “They say, ‘This [guy] throws hard.’ ”
Says Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth: “On the mound, he’s a killer. A cold-blooded killer.”
‘He cuts your heart out’
On June 7, 2009, the night the Nationals drafted Strasburg with the first overall pick, General Manager Mike Rizzo said, “He’s certainly in the team photo of best guys I’ve seen.” Now that Strasburg has put his full talents on display, Rizzo has amended his evaluation.
“I think he’s better than the guy we drafted,” Rizzo said. “I think he’s a better package than what I envisioned that we drafted. This guy knows how to pitch. He knows how to prepare. He is focused like the elite pitchers that I’ve been around.
“He’s got the face of a choir boy. And he cuts your heart out.”
Strasburg has still blended into this Nationals’ season, no longer their biggest curiosity. Bryce Harper, the 19-year-old drafted first overall the year after Strasburg, is the one handling cameras in his face, the endless hype. His own experience helped to steel Strasburg.
“Through time, I understood I didn’t need to prove to anybody anything,” Strasburg said. “Originally, when I first came up, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to show everybody that I’m the real deal and that I am everything that everybody has been saying.’ I pushed a little bit harder out there to do the things I was capable of.”