By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2010; D01
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- There is no higher class of minor leagues left for Stephen Strasburg, so what happens now? Let him face robots in the bullpen? Make him throw left-handed? Baseball's financial structure all but ensures he will not become a Washington National for about three weeks, and after his performance Wednesday night it is hard to imagine his current competition will do anything to challenge him in the meantime.
In his second start for Class AAA Syracuse, Strasburg made clear there is only one league suited for his immense talent. He no-hit the Norfolk Tides over six innings, facing only one batter above the minimum. Four of his last five starts have been either one-hit or no-hit outings. On Wednesday, Strasburg struck out seven, threw 55 of his 79 pitches for strikes and gave most Norfolk hitters the same odds grass stands against a lawnmower.
His dominance -- a word that hardly does justice to what went on before a crowd of 6,702 at Alliance Bank Stadium -- came as no surprise. In 12 innings against Class AAA hitters, the highest competition he can face before heading to Washington, Strasburg has allowed one single, walked two and struck out 13. Add up all seven of his minor league starts, and Strasburg has a 1.06 ERA, a 0.65 WHIP and 40 strikeouts in 34 innings.
Strasburg, so much whirling around him, has spoken often about focusing on the present, living in the now. One step away from the majors, he admitted that is becoming more difficult. "Yeah," he said. "At times."
"I'm still not where I want to be," Strasburg said. "I'm still hungry. I'm starting to smell it a little bit. Hopefully, I can get there soon. I don't want to be in Triple A the rest of my career, you know?"
The men who will soon become his teammates concur. Just like fans salivating for Strasburg's arrival, the Nationals, currently one game out of first place, can't help but think what could be.
"He got brought up probably every single day" in the Nationals clubhouse, said Syracuse outfielder Justin Maxwell, who has spent much of the season with Washington. "I remember a couple times even when he was down in Double A, you'd hear, 'Yeah, we're pretty good. But just imagine if we he had Strasburg and [reliever Drew] Storen right now. We'd be in first place by a lot.' "
If Strasburg's first Class AAA start left any doubt he is a major leaguer in disguise, Wednesday night erased that. The Tides, in a 4-0 Chiefs victory, managed two hard-hit balls all night. Right fielder Blake Davis smoked a one-hopper off of Syracuse shortstop Pedro Lopez's glove and reached on the error. In the sixth, catcher Adam Donachie launched a fly ball about 360 feet to left, just shy of the warning track, where Chase Lambin made the catch.
Strasburg again proved himself more than a one-in-a-billion arm -- he can really pitch. He reached 98 mph several times, but he recorded five of his seven strikeouts with off-speed pitches. Easy as it looks for him, the Nationals insist the minors still provide Strasburg essential training.
"I think he gets stuff every day," Chiefs Manager Trent Jewett said. "Our patience and guidance, I think long-term is going to really pay off. When you have a guy that's going to be a pillar, you have to think long-term. I saw a big difference from the first time. There was a vast difference between tonight and the other night. I thought he pitched better."
"It's just a necessary thing that he goes through these outings," Nationals pitching coordinator Spin Williams said. "It's part of the seasoning process. We want to try to season him as good as we can before he goes to the big leagues."
The Nationals, Williams said, "are thinking about" giving him an extra day of rest before his next start. The takeaway from that decision may reverberate in Washington. If Strasburg gets an extra day of rest in between his next three starts, he will have made five starts in Class AAA, 10 minor league starts in total, by May 30.
Five days later, on June 4, the Nationals open a homestand against the Cincinnati Reds. By then, the time to delay Strasburg's arbitration clock will definitely be up. The Nationals could start Strasburg on June 4 and then bring him back for June 10 (the Nats have a day off June 7) against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the final game of the six-game homestand.
Two Strasburg starts in that homestand would be an attendance bonanza. It would also end months of waiting and, finally, provide Strasburg the stage on which he so clearly belongs.