|Temper Expectations on Strasburg|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on June 11, 2010
Ignore the hype -- at least for now.
Oh the potential to be great is there but it's too early to anoint Stephen Strasburg as one of the great ones. Sure he had a great debut and struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates in seven innings but the key words in that phrase is Pittsburgh Pirates.
In fact he made a single error, a bad pitch that Delwyn Young parked in the bleachers in deep right center, but those two runs he yielded were more than he gave up in most of his minor league appearances. That leaves you wondering just how successful he might have been against a team that could actually hit.
But we won't find that out for a while. The Nationals rightly have chosen Strasburg's first opponents very closely. Not until the first week of July will Strasburg match up with a team on the right side of .500 and even then the teams he'll most likely get to face, the Mets and then the Giants, aren't exactly powerhouses.
Next up the Indians, then the While Sox, then the Orioles. None of these teams should really put a lot of pressure on Strasburg. And he doesn't need more pressure -- the media has already given it to him by casting him in the mold of a legend even before he threw his first Major League pitch.
That's nothing new. We've seen that plenty of times before. There have been plenty of well hyped guys who had incredible stuff, guys who've cruised through the minors, or even dominated at the college level and then managed nothing, save perhaps for one good season. Does the name Mark Prior ring a bell?
But Strasburg might actually be able to deliver on the hype. He's certainly got the goods when it comes to stuff and you only had to watch his debut to realize that he's a very polished young pitcher. But young and pitcher are key words here.
So much can go wrong. Injury, struggles against the better hitting teams, even how he mentally handles the first time he gets shelled by the opposition -- something that happens even to the great ones.
Yet we want to believe. After all baseball needs a constant supply of young legends and while there are several pitchers already cast into that role, we want someone to be the greatest pitcher who ever lived. And we'd like one who didn't play during the steroid era.
That's a big load for a kid like Stephen Strasburg to have to shoulder. But the Nationals are doing this right. His first five games should be low stress and give his a chance to adjust to big league hitters and let him see what he can do, as well as giving the pitching coaches a chance to see if there is anything he needs help with. Then starting in July he'll get a chance to see how he fares against some better hitting teams.
And when he succeeds against them, then it will be time to believe the hype and to cross our fingers that this kid has a long and healthy career.