Sports

Picking Splinters: Oh My God

Nyjer Morgan, AKA Tony Plush, is a prophet. As I sat watching Stephen Strasburg deliver one lightning bolt after another to the mitt of Nationals’ catcher Ivan Rodriguez, only one word came to mind: “Jesus.”

Nyjer Morgan, AKA Tony Plush, is a prophet. As I sat watching Stephen Strasburg deliver one lightning bolt after another to the mitt of Nationals’ catcher Ivan Rodriguez, only one word came to mind: “Jesus.”

I’m not comparing Strasburg to the Lamb of God, but the hurler’s prodigious talent certainly is enough to prompt an old-fashioned taking the Lord’s name in vain.

14 strikeouts: A new Nationals’ single-game record and the third-most by any major league pitcher in their debut. And the guys that topped Strasburg in that feat pitched complete games instead of just seven innings.

Here’s where it gets really crazy: 0 walks. Not a single pitcher has ever walked no one while fanning 14 hitters in their debut: no one, ever. Think of all the starting pitchers there are. Heck, just think of all the Hall of Famers. Not one of them achieved what Strasburg did Tuesday night.

He’s 21 years old. He’s a rookie. He’s one year removed from playing with college kids and he blows away 14 major league hitters.

Jesus.

As the game progressed, he got stronger. He struck out the last seven batters he faced, and eight of the last nine. His final pitch of the game lit up the radar gun at 99 mph, one of 18 pitches that reached that speed or higher.

And it wasn’t just his fastball that was boggling hitters. His curveball may be the single best pitch I’ve ever seen. That thing is like a boomerang when it comes out of his hand. If the ground didn’t get in the way there’s a decent chance that sucker would wind up back on the mound where it started.

The only thing that could stop Strasburg was a pitch count and it did. Despite the persistent protests of the MLB Network broadcast crew of Bob Costas, Jim Kaat and John Smoltz — who sounded like they were running a telethon for the Dr. James Andrews retirement fund — Strasburg took a seat after seven sterling innings.

Even the one bad pitch he made — a change-up on the outside corner to Delwyn Young — wasn’t that bad, Young just muscled up and swatted it out. And before the landslide of sarcasm deriding the Pirates as a AAA team continues, let’s remember that they’re in the middle third of the majors in strikeouts. They don’t just flail at anything at the plate.

That reminds me: Mark your calendars for the weekend of Aug. 13 though Aug. 15, when the Arizona Diamondbacks come to town. The D-Backs lead the majors in Ks by more than 70 right now, so if you want to see a strikeout record eclipsed, pray Strasburg gets one of those starts.

Equally impressive as what Strasburg did on the field is what he did off of it: fill the stands.

There are two games that stand out to me that might (might) have shared the same electric atmosphere as last night’s contest: The first night of Nationals Park and the team’s first game back in the District at RFK. There is excitement around this franchise for, arguably, the first time since 2005. Not bad for a 21-year-old rookie.

And that’s the really tantalizing part: This is just the beginning.

How good is this guy going to get? In his column for ESPN.com Wednesday morning, Jayson Stark pointed out that Strasburg has faced 234 professional batters since being drafted. Just 35 of them managed a hit. 79 of them had struck out. That’s a 2:1 strikeout to hit ratio.

There’s little chance that Strasburg can be as dominant every night as he was Tuesday. After all, he won’t get to keep facing the Pirates, an opponent that prompted ESPN analyst Keith Law to joke that Strasburg was long overdue for a call-up to the Majors.  But his next several opponents could make for some interesting results.

Likely up next for Strasburg are the woebegone Cleveland Indians, followed by the Chicago White Sox and then … wait for it … the Baltimore Orioles.

Too bad Peter Angelos won’t be in the batter’s box for that one.

Rivalries aside, those three teams all rank in the bottom six in the majors in runs scored and the bottom seven in batting average (Pittsburgh is the worst at .236).

Maybe Strasburg won’t breeze past all of his opponents as easily as Tuesday, but Jesus, the next few weeks should be awfully fun.

Contact Mike Hume at [email protected]

He Tweets @pckngsplinters

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