When Stephen Strasburg makes his major league debut Tuesday night in Washington, he won't just generate excitement among the Nationals and their fans, but around baseball.
That includes in the Braves' clubhouse, where manager Bobby Cox has taken the time to watch an entire game of Strasburg’s at San Diego State.
“Looks great,” Cox said. “He’s got all the pitches, plus control.”
The pitch that people have raved about since the Nationals took him No. 1 overall in last year's draft is his fastball, which regularly hits 100 mph on the radar gun. That’s a big part of why Strasburg signed a $15 million contract with the Nationals, the richest in draft history.
Former Brave John Smoltz will sit alongside Bob Costas and former pitcher Jim Kaat in the broadcast booth Tuesday night at a sold-out Nationals Park as part of MLB Network’s national broadcast.
Smoltz compares Strasburg to a Hall of Fame-bound 300-game winner.
“He’s a right-handed version of Randy Johnson,” Smoltz said. “He’s got that kind of nasty stuff, plus arms, legs and the ball exploding out of his hand.”
Strasburg, 21, is 6-foot-4, not 6-foot-10, but makes his debut with more anticipation than Johnson could have imagined at that stage in his career. Smoltz called it the most anticipated debut since Dwight Gooden, who began his career for the Mets in 1984 as a 19-year-old with a 98 mph fastball.
Given the media’s reach these days, this might be a step beyond that.
Fans have eagerly awaited his call-up throughout his two-month stint in the minor leagues this season, where he went 7-2 with a 1.30 ERA in 11 starts between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. He has 65 strikeouts compared with 13 walks in 55 1/3 innings.
Cox, for one, doesn’t think Strasburg will throw in the triple-digits every fastball, nor will he need to, and Smoltz knows he’ll have to make adjustments along the way.
“He’s going to be like he is -- hard-throwing and nasty -- until eventually they’ll find a crack in the armor,” Smoltz said.
On Tuesday night, Smoltz will recall his debut, when he beat the Mets in July 1988 at Shea Stadium.
“The one thing you forget to do is to have fun,” Smoltz said. “First you’re trying to settle the nerves, and after that it’s about expectations. There’s only one time you can say it’s your first.”
Smoltz, in his first year as a full-time broadcaster, plans to have some fun himself.
“It really is exciting,” he said. “These are games that don’t come around very often. And I’m sure the Pirates are going to be jazzed up, too.”
The Braves should get their own first-hand impressions of Strasburg in a few weeks. The Braves host the Nationals at Turner Field on June 28-30, and he's likely to pitch.
The Braves, like everyone else, know Strasburg is about to be where he belongs -- in the majors.
“It’s time,” Cox said. “It’d be wasting his time spending any more time in Triple-A.”
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