May 25, 2012
The Washington Nationals have cornered the phenom market in recent drafts, and 2012 is set up for outfielder Bryce Harper and pitcher Stephen Strasburg to begin their hostile takeover of the National League East. Harper made his D.C. debut four weeks ago and has impressed with his fearsome swing, cannon arm, and competitive moxie. Strasburg, on the other hand, is trying to recapture the success that he enjoyed in his own debut two years ago, when he pounced on the scene with such utter domination that he immediately vaulted to Ace status.
The former no. 1 pick's $15.1 million contract shattered Mark Prior's previous record for a bonus baby, not long Strasburg stole the title of “The Greatest College Pitcher of All Time” from the former Cub. The Strasburg hype machine was on overdrive during the summer of 2010—his final minor-league start was nationally televised, and the baseball used for the first pitch of his major-league career was put aside for the Hall of Fame museum. I was floored by Strasburg's inaugural MLB start, watching major-league hitters flail at devastating heat that jumped out of the rookie's hand as he struck out 14 Pirates. Stras showed impeccable consistency, poise, and preternatural command of one of the filthiest arsenals these eyes have ever seen.
Having already spent a year on the shelf recovering from the snapped UCL heard 'round the world, Strasburg is trying to avoid the injury-prone tag that tailed Prior his entire career. Stras underwent Tommy John surgery after just a dozen starts for the Nats, while carrying some of the same mechanical precursors that hindsight analysts have myopically blamed for Prior's woes.
Bridge to the present, where Strasburg has reassumed his position above the rest of baseball’s young hurlers. He is sitting on the second-highest strikeout total in the National League, trailing teammate Gio Gonzalez by five punchouts and 0.5 K's per nine innings. Stras had his work cut out for him in interleague action last weekend, looking to rebound from his shortest outing of the season against a Baltimore club that is, shockingly, fronting baseball’s toughest division.
The first inning of Sunday's game was a struggle for Strasburg as he battled the timing of his delivery and the location of his pitches. Pitch command is typically the last thing to come back following Tommy John surgery, but Strasburg's elbow had little to do with his inability to hit targets. On the first several pitches. Stras over-rotated the shoulders past his optimal release point, missing low and/or to the glove-side with a barrage of fastballs. He started 3-0 to Xavier Avery before the leadoff man singled on a full-count fastball.