Photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg starts Friday night against the Cardinals.
Not that each of Strasburg's outings aren't worth watching, but you might really want to make a point to keep up with this one. It may be the last chance we get to see the 21-year-old against big-league hitters for a while.
The Nationals haven't announced any plans for Strasburg beyond this week, but there's a really good chance this will be his final start in big-league camp. Unless the club intends to put him in the Opening Day rotation -- and all signs continue to point to that NOT happening -- there are plenty of reasons to send him over to the minor-league side in the next week...
1. The club has planned all along to pitch Strasburg only in home games this spring. His next turn in the rotation comes Wednesday, and the Nats are playing at the Yankees that night. He's not making that trip.
2. If Strasburg isn't in the Opening Day rotation, someone else needs to take his place. That man looks like Livan Hernandez, who is slated to pitch on the minor-league side tomorrow to get his work in but ultimately needs to face major-league hitters and build up his pitch count.
3. Strasburg himself needs to build up his innings count. He'll go four innings tomorrow and should increase one inning per start from here on out. Easier to do that in the controlled environment of the minor-league side as opposed to the Grapefruit League, where Jim Riggleman and Steve McCatty need to make sure their relievers are also getting enough work.
The way this all plays out, Strasburg figures to make at least two starts in minor-league camp (March 24 and March 29). His next turn would then come on April 3 ... which just happens to be the day Washington hosts the Red Sox in a highly anticipated exhibition game at Nationals Park.
Might the club be planning to start Strasburg in that game and give D.C. fans a glimpse of the future? Don't get your hopes up. While there's certainly some PR value in doing that, there are several reasons why it doesn't make sense. ...
1. The Nationals are going to be very careful about keeping Strasburg from pitching in cold weather early in the year. That's one reason he probably won't open the season at Harrisburg or Syracuse. Potomac makes more sense, though even that could be cold the first week of April, so there's absolutely a chance he stays in Florida for an extra week or two once camp breaks. A 4:05 p.m. start in D.C. on April 3 has the potential to be a chilly one.
2. Whoever ends up as the Nationals' No. 3 starter needs to pitch that day. Assuming it's Hernandez, he needs to start the Red Sox game or else somehow get six innings of work somewhere else.
3. The Nats have already sold plenty of tickets to the game because of interest in the Red Sox. They probably don't need Strasburg's presence to build hype.
4. Strasburg himself probably wouldn't go for it. Remember the day last August when he held his first press conference at Nationals Park and was introduced to the crowd in between innings? Weren't you surprised he didn't throw out the ceremonial first pitch? A lot of people were. The Nats asked him to, but Strasburg told GM Mike Rizzo he preferred not to do it. His reason (and I'm paraphrasing here): "When I step on that mound for the first time, I want to be wearing a uniform. I want there to be a big-league hitter standing at the plate. And I want to throw it 100 mph." Why waste a moment like that on an exhibition game?
In all likelihood, that moment will come sometime in late-May or early-June. The June 4-10 homestand against the Reds and Pirates sure looks like a prime target.
So get a look at Strasburg tomorrow night, folks. You may not see him again for a while.