KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- We're still an hour away from today's game against the Astros, which features plenty of compelling storylines, not the least of which are Scott Olsen and Matt Chico's latest outings in their attempted return from major arm injuries.
But it's never too early to turn our attention toward tomorrow's game against the Cardinals, because none other than Stephen Strasburg will be starting for the Nationals.
Fresh off his eye-opening debut Tuesday against the Tigers, the rookie right-hander will ramp things up a bit in his second start. He'll throw three innings. Perhaps we'll see his velocity tick up a notch or two (yes, he's capable of throwing harder than we saw last time).
As for the expected results, well, the Nationals still aren't so much concerned with what the final numbers say. At this point, they're more concerned with making sure he's adjusting to the five-day pitching schedule, with just as much emphasis on his off-day work as his actual in-game performance.
As manager Jim Riggleman put it: "Our only expectations [for Strasburg] are: he threw his game. He did what we wanted him to do, what we want all our guys to do. Recovered well. Threw his side session. Took a day off and then pitching the game. You just hope that routine starts to really settle in and that becomes the norm for him."
All indications are that Strasburg will get to make another start after this one. His turn would come up again Friday night, again with the Cardinals coming to Viera, and he'd be slated to throw four innings that time.
After that, though, it's probably a safe bet to think Strasburg will be sent to minor-league camp. He won't make the trip to Tampa to pitch against the Yankees on March 24, and after that the club needs to line all five of its projected big-league starters up in preparation for the season's first week.
I know there's been some speculation about the possibility of Strasburg pitching in that April 3 exhibition game against the Red Sox at Nationals Park. His schedule does line up with that. However, my hunch -- and again, this is just a hunch, not concrete info -- is that it won't happen. From what I've been told, the Nats have already sold a ton of tickets to that game, perhaps close to a sellout. They don't need Strasburg to get people to attend that one; the Red Sox alone are a major draw. Also, the staff is going to be very cautious about having him pitch in any cold-weather situations, another reason to believe he'd stay in Viera until the minor-league season begins.