Nats' Stephen Strasburg will debut in big leagues June 8

Stephen Strasburg's minor league numbers remain strong.
Stephen Strasburg's minor league numbers remain strong. (Associated Press)
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By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 1, 2010

HOUSTON -- For everyone -- his fans, his soon-to-be Nationals teammates and, perhaps most of all, Stephen Strasburg himself -- the wait is nearly over. Strasburg, the phenom regarded as maybe the best pitching prospect of all time, will make his ravenously anticipated major league debut on June 8 at Nationals Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Strasburg will make one more minor league start, at Class AAA Buffalo for Syracuse, before joining the Nationals for good. He has mostly made a mockery of the minor leagues, going 6-2 with a 1.43 ERA with 60 strikeout in 50 1/3 innings. He has one week left as a minor leaguer, one week before he fulfills an aim his towering ability may obscure.

"One thing we want to remember about Stephen Strasburg is he's a phenomenal talent, but he's also still a kid," said Nationals pitching coordinator Spin Williams, the first member of the organization who played catch with Strasburg in Viera, Fla. after he signed last summer. "Any kid that dreams about playing baseball in the big leagues can't wait to get there."

As pitching coordinator, Williams has helped craft Strasburg's schedule with General Manager Mike Rizzo. But for his first major league outing, Williams had little to say. "Mike and the powers that be, that was their target date," Williams said.

Strasburg has thrived while remaining humble and receptive. ("My wife could probably coach him," Williams said. "That's how talented he is.") He excelled at, to use his term, living in the now. Back on May 12, after he no-hit Class AAA Norfolk for six innings, he admitted that coming so close to the majors had made that tougher at times.

The Nationals had at one point planned on Strasburg making his debut June 4, according to two sources with knowledge of those plans, but the Nationals changed the debut day for an unknown reason, perhaps because catcher Iván Rodríguez landed on the disabled list.

With his start date settled, the next question surrounding Strasburg's schedule will be, when does he stop pitching this season? The Nationals use a formula as a guideline for how many innings their young pitchers throw in a given year, Williams said. They take the previous year's innings pitched and add 20 percent to that total. Using Strasburg's innings from college, instructional leagues and the Arizona Fall League, Strasburg's target innings for this year, minors and majors combined, comes out to about 160.

Strasburg, again, has thrown 50 1/3 minor league innings with one start to go. That would leave him about 95 innings to pitch in the majors. The Nationals, though, do not use their formula as a hard-and-fast limit.

"If we feel a guy is getting tired, we're going to slow him down before he hits that 20 percent," Williams said. "If we feel a guy can go a few more innings than that 20 percent, we'll change, too.

"We're trying to win a championship in Washington. Our job is to protect the products of the organization as best we can."

Assume the Nationals use roughly their targeted innings. If Strasburg averages six innings per start, Strasburg would make about 15 starts and see his season shut down at the end of August.

If the Nationals, currently .500, remain in contention, determining Strasburg's schedule could become a fascinating and welcome dilemma for the Nationals.

All of that, though, is far away. For now, Strasburg and everyone else who waited for him to start can know, barring injury or weather issues, when his major league career will begin.

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