You know something has to be up when the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates are set to play in front of a sellout crowd on a Tuesday night. Yep, the day has arrived: Stephen Strasburg — apparently the greatest pitcher ever born — makes his debut tonight. In 11 starts at AA and AAA, the 2009 first overall pick went a combined 7-2 with a 1.30 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings.
Now, typically I’m the type of asshole that gets satisfaction out of debuts like this not going quite as planned. To be honest, though, I’m rooting for Strasburg — he seems like a good kid, has incredible stuff (a fastball that touches 100 and a slider at 92) and is joining a Washington team that deserves a boost after a few hellish years. Strasburg’s debut, a surprising 27-31 start (which is remarkable by Nationals standards) and yesterday’s selection of 17-year-old phenom Bryce Harper as the top pick in the 2010 Draft have to put them in pretty good shape for the future, or at least one would assume.
I’ve been following baseball closely for something like 50 years and haven’t seen as much hype surrounding a debut as Strasburg’s. The closest thing to it, though, serves as a bit of a cautionary tale: In 1973, the Texas Rangers selected an 18-year-old high school lefty named David Clyde first overall and brought him right up to boost the team’s paltry attendance. The game sold out and Clyde won, but the high didn’t last long — he finished the season 4-8, went 3-9 the next year and was out of the game by age 24 with an 18-33 career mark. Given that Strasburg’s four years older than Clyde at the time of his debut and has some minor league seasoning, I’m giving him better odds of sticking. Plus, with all due respect to Clyde (and admittedly, I never saw him pitch), Strasburg’s stuff is too good to go wrong.
Anyway, the baseball world has been talking about this kid since well before last year’s draft, so it’s due time to see just how good he is. The Nats and Pirates get going at 7:05 tonight.