Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Pitching in Washington won't be anything like pitching in Viera.
And baseball has never seen anything quite like this.
I'm not sure anybody expected this. Sure, there figured to be hype, and there figured to be a buzz around this game. But the hysteria has really reached remarkable levels the last couple days. You can't watch ESPN for more than 10 minutes without some mention of Strasburg. Baseball Tonight is broadcasting live from the ballpark today. When do they ever do that for a regular-season game? MLB Network is sending out the "A" team of Bob Costas, Jim Kaat and John Smoltz to broadcast tonight's game against the Pirates across the country ... well, except for the D.C. and Pittsburgh areas. We get Bob and Rob on MASN2.
I think the magnitude of all this finally hit me yesterday, as national media members began arriving at the ballpark to write about the Bryce Harper-Stephen Strasburg back-to-back events. There will be about 200 media members credentialed for tonight's game, and among that pack include reporters from newspapers in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles plus plenty of others. This won't quite compare to the media presence for a World Series, but this is comparable to an LCS. All for one pitcher's big-league debut. Nothing has ever come close to matching this.
Now, of course, the question is how Strasburg will handle all this attention and how he will perform under the brightest of spotlights. So let's run through a few things you should and should not expect out of tonight's game...
You SHOULD expect... Strasburg to be unfazed by the pressure. I know this is a grander scale than he has experienced before, but this kid is all business when he gets on the mound. He takes his preparation seriously, he has the ability block out everything else surrounding him. I'm guessing afterward, he won't even be able to recall anything that was going on around him the entire evening.
You SHOULD NOT expect... Strasburg to pitch a complete game. He'll be restricted to somewhere between 90-100 pitches, as will be the case all season. The game's most-efficient pitchers can go the distance at that rate, but Strasburg isn't the most-efficient pitcher, at least not yet. If there was one thing to harp on during his two months in the minors, it was his penchant to rack up high pitch counts. Don't be surprised if he doesn't even make it through the sixth inning tonight.
You SHOULD expect... Strasburg to get a lot of groundballs. The biggest fallacy about him as a pitcher is that he's a guy who blows hitters away and notches gigantic strikeout totals. While that was the case in college, that wasn't the case in the minor leagues, and in some ways it's by design. Strasburg is a sinker-baller. His two-seam fastball has great downward movement, and that leads to a ton of groundballs.
You SHOULD NOT expect... Lots of strikeouts. Again, this isn't a guy who's going to challenge Roger Clemens, Kerry Wood and Randy Johnson's record of 20 K's in one game. Look for probably one strikeout per inning on average, still an impressive rate.
You SHOULD expect... A devastating breaking ball. Strasburg's best pitch isn't his fastball, good as that heater is. His changeup (which registers about 90 mph) ain't too shabby, either. But his best pitch is that slider/curve hybrid (I'm going to start referring to it as a slurve). It comes in around 82-85 mph and it breaks sharply down and away from right-handed hitters. It's just devastating. I've still yet to see anyone make solid contact on that pitch, and I don't expect to see the Pirates do much with it tonight.
You SHOULD NOT expect... Strasburg to hit 100 mph on the radar gun. As much as everyone's going to be drooling over the possibility, his velocity has actually come down a notch since his college days. Again, this is by design. Strasburg doesn't throw his four-seam fastball all that much, instead sticking with the two-seam sinker. A 97-mph pitch with sink is far more effective than a 100-mph pitch that's straight as an arrow.
OK, it's prediction time. Here's my predicted final line for the phenom...
5.2 ip, 5 h, 1 er, 1 bb, 6 k, 95 pitches.
I'm interested to know what you all think. Will Strasburg be lights-out? Will he be terrible? Will he be somewhere in between? What would be considered a success in your mind? What would be considered a disappointment?