(Test your Strasburg trivia knowledge with this quiz.)
One year, two months and 29 days ago Stephen Strasburg took the mound at Nationals Park, carrying the weight of a fan base starving for a new era of Major League Baseball on his highly-touted right arm.
That Tuesday in June, the No. 1 overall pick delivered a masterpiece worthy of his billing — a team-record 14 strikeouts in a victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But under the weight of astronomical expectations, Strasburg’s arm failed him last
September August, forcing the now-23-year-old hurler under the knife for Tommy John Surgery.
Tuesday night his long road back ends back on the mound in Washington, D.C. where late last summer he provided a glimpse of the promise a staff ace can provide a team looking to go from bottom-feeder to championship-contender. Strasburg will make his first start since Aug. 21 tonight against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
As fans throughout baseball look ahead, here’s a look back at Strasburg’s brief, but already eventful career.
(You’ll notice Tuesdays are a theme in the Strasburg story, meaning it would only be fitting if Tuesday night’s game — currently threatened by weather — were to go off without a hitch or delay and with Strasburg on the bump.)
Tuesday, June 9,
2010 2009 — Nationals select Stephen Strasburg with top pick in MLB draft
“Entering this year, the Nationals had already identified Strasburg as a top talent -- a surefire No. 1 pick. His selection yesterday was merely a formality. Still, it came with a momentary celebration. At 6:14 p.m., Washington’s director of baseball operations, Brian Parker, called a Major League Baseball official and informed him of Washington’s No. 1 selection. Two minutes later, at a television studio in Secaucus, N.J., Commissioner Bud Selig strode to a podium and announced a name that, even within the Nationals’ clubhouse, everybody already knew.”
Tuesday, June 8, 2010 — With Stephen Strasburg, everything is finally possible for D.C. baseball
From Thomas Boswell’s column:
“Just sit back and enjoy this. Let it wash over you. The longer you’ve been a D.C. baseball fan, the more you deserve what’s about to happen, starting on Tuesday night. Other towns demand a pennant. Since the end of World War II, Washington has just asked for a future. Not a promise, just a possibility. Now it’s here.
“Whether you are in Nationals Park or watching on television when Stephen Strasburg makes his major league debut, you’ll know you are seeing a landmark event. A city that went to only three World Series in 71 seasons, then lost two franchises and waited 33 years to get a team back, is reentering the baseball mainstream at last.
“The near-capacity crowd stood and cheered a moment like none of them had ever witnessed at Nationals Park. The five years of losing, the months of waiting, the breathless hype, it all led to this: Stephen Strasburg standing on the top step of the home dugout in a Washington Nationals jersey, having done something nobody could believe. Strasburg looked into the stands and lifted his cap.
“There should have been no way Strasburg could have matched the expectations attached to his first major league start Tuesday night. And yet he surpassed them. Strasburg struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates in seven innings, setting a new Nationals record on one of the most momentous days since baseball returned to the District.”
“They drove to work with baseball talk on the radio, tweeted breathlessly from their office cubicles, checked their favorite blogs for updates, sneaked glances at the handy countdown ticker that ran all day on ESPN, wished each other “Merry Strasmas.” And finally, at 7:06 p.m., they rose as one from every corner of Nationals Park, with cameras and camcorders held aloft for posterity, to glimpse the most significant moment in the history of the Washington Nationals.
“It was the first major league pitch of Stephen Strasburg’s career — 97 mph fastball, inside, ball one — the dawning of a new era for the Nationals franchise, and the spectacular collision of two of the most powerful forces today: a once-in-a-generation baseball phenom and the assembled might of the media hype machine in the Internet age.”
Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010 — Strasburg pulled from start with arm tightness
“Strasburg was in the midst of one of his finest outings of the season Saturday night in Philadelphia, when he suddenly grimaced in pain and began shaking his right arm following a 1-1 change-up to Phillies right fielder Domonic Brown, on Strasburg’s 56th pitch of the night. Although he lobbied to remain in the game, Riggleman and pitching coach Steve McCatty immediately yanked him.”
• D.C. Sports Bog: Rob Dibble tells Strasburg to “Suck it up”
• D.C. Sports Bog: Korhneiser and Wilbon react to Strasburg’s injury (CRISIS!)
From a Nationals Insider post on Strasburg’s return to spring training:
“Since the first day Stephen Strasburg showed up at Nationals spring training and played light catch (Lightcatchageddon?), there has been a dearth of updates regarding his condition. This owes to the nature of the Tommy John surgery recovery process. It’s like a child growing up or the economic decline of Japan. Today is the same as yesterday, until so many todays pile up.”
Tuesday, Aug. 23 — Strasburg is back, and perhaps better than ever
“Strasburg’s candor cuts both ways. If you want a bit of a chill down the baseball portion of your spine, this is the money sound bite from Strasburg’s own mouth after fanning six Hickory Crawdads in three innings.
“‘The curveball is still not where it was,” he said. “All my other pitches are better than they were before, so I’m sure that will be the same.’
“If Strasburg is exaggerating, especially about himself, it’s the first time.”
Monday, Sept. 5, 2011 — Strasburg is back in D.C.
“The only things that might hold Strasburg back are the same entities that have been holding him back for 12 months now — the Nationals, and the process. Even though he is returning to the big leagues, in a sense completing his rehab, the rebuilding of Stephen Strasburg continues. He will be limited to about 60 pitches on Tuesday night, and to about 25-30 innings in the majors this season. Even next year, he is likely to be shut down in August. Not until 2013 will we see him completely unfettered.
““I want to be a horse in the rotation someday,” Strasburg told MASN, one of two media outlets to get one-on-one interviews with Strasburg this summer. (The other, the MLB Network, is, like MASN, a television rightsholder.) “I want to be able to throw 240 innings in a season and be that guy that, [when] you need me to go out in the eighth, ninth inning [or] pitch on three days’ rest, I’m that guy.”
From a Nationals Insider post on Washington’s contingency plan if bad weather impacts Tuesday’s game:
“‘If he warms up and it rains, we’ll probably have to do it another day,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “If there’s a delay, it’s something you don’t want, whether it’s Strasburg or any other starter to go through any kind of rain delay. Hopefully, we’ll have no rain. He’ll get his work in, and we’ll move on. I don’t like those negative kind of questions. Can you give me a better forecast or something?’”
Strasburg’s highly-anticipated return should provide a preview of what Nats fans hope will be a further improved ballclub in 2012. As Johnson indicated, Washington will take no chances with the most valuable right arm in its organization. Pitchers often never regain their form following Tommy John Surgery. But others do. San Francisco Giants All-Star pitcher Ryan Vogelsong is a perfect example.
Two things are certain, however:
1) Stephen Strasburg is critical to the future of the Washington Nationals.
2) The Nats, the majority of their fans and most of the media covering them — perhaps even Mr. Boswell himself — are glad they selected the fire-baller from San Diego with the top pick in the 2009 draft.
But it wasn’t always that way...
“It’s too bad Stephen Strasburg is a pitcher. Otherwise, he might be worth a record-shattering amount of money for a No. 1 overall draft pick. But he’s a pitcher. So, he isn’t.
“History is unequivocal. Strasburg, no matter how much he dominates college hitters, will probably either be a .500 pitcher with a 150-150 record, or he’ll be a bust....
“Nobody — n-o-b-o-d-y — has used a No. 1 overall pick on a pitcher and been glad they did it.”