Tracee Hamilton - Sports Columnist

Anticipation Heats Up as Strasburg Readies for Arizona Debut

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By Tracee Hamilton
Friday, October 16, 2009


First, the bad news: Stephen Strasburg could do without humidity. (Already I like him!) He was in the instructional league in Florida earlier this month, and all in all, he prefers Arizona. After all -- say it with me -- it's a dry heat.

"Coming from Melbourne, it's pretty humid," Strasburg said on Thursday. "You come out of the hotel and your sunglasses fog up immediately. It's nice to be out in nicer weather. I like this desert scene with the little mountains and the sand and the cactus. It's a pretty cool atmosphere."

Who wants to tell the Nationals' $15 million prodigy that Washington gets a little sticky during the baseball months? Anyone?

He'll learn soon enough, next summer, in fact, because it's not possible that the Nats will be able to keep him down on the farm. There just doesn't seem to be a downside to Strasburg, who will make his Arizona Fall League debut on Friday night in Phoenix. Here is the measured opinion of Nats minor league pitching coach Paul Menhart, who is filling that role for the Phoenix Desert Dogs, Strasburg's team:

"The first impression I got is this kid is an ultimate professional," Menhart said. "He has great body awareness, he has a feel for numerous pitches, three or four pitches. He's a special kid. The upside is unknown right now but it's incredible."

Asked to rank Strasburg's pitches, Menhart said, "Obviously that fastball is well above average. It's probably his No. 1 pitch without a doubt.

"A lot of people don't know about this but his change-up, I think, is his second best pitch and he's rarely had to use it because he's got this 95 to 100 mph fastball. I've already told him and he knows that he's going to use that out here. He's stepped into a situation where these boys can hit. He's going to have to mix his pitches and he's not going to be able to just rely on the fastball. His breaking ball is also extremely good."

How about movement on the fastball?

"He has a straight four-seam fastball and he has a two-seam fastball that has some sink to it, which is going to put fits into hitters' ideas and plans," Menhart said, laughing.

Have you seen anyone with his stuff? After all, Menhart played in the majors three seasons.

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