Washington Nationals Editorial: Examining The Enigma That Is Stephen Strasburg


On a beautiful evening on June 8,2010 in Washington D.C., a sellout crowd of 40,315 saw possibly the greatest single game performance in Washington Nationals history. Stephen Strasburg made his first career MLB start and pitched the most dominant game of his career to date. Strasburg went seven innings and struck out fourteen batters, including retiring the last seven in a row. His fourteen strikeouts became the second most all time in an MLB debut.

Being lucky enough to attend this game, there was an atmosphere at Nationals Park I had never experienced before. The crowd was on its feet at every two strike count from the fifth inning on, and a playoff like atmosphere reigned throughout the stadium. There was an electricity throughout Nationals Park that had been lacking since it opened in 2008.The future had finally arrived, and single handily, Strasburg brought a sense of hope to a city that had endured a lot of losing over the years.

It is hard to believe that today that game was almost six years ago and Strasburg is in the final year of his contract with the Nationals, with his future up in the air. So far, it has been a career with many highs and lows for the big right-hander. In 2010, he was forced to undergo Tommy John Surgery and he had to miss all but one game of the 2011 season.

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Strasburg came back strong in 2012 and was selected to his first All-Star game in a dominant season, but eventually he was shut down for the Nationals first playoff appearance in team history due to hitting his innings limit. The most interesting season of his career might have been this past season. 

Strasburg battled injuries and mechanical issues for most of the year, but came back strong and was one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers in the final two months. In his last ten starts of the 2015 season, he gave up more than three runs only one time, and struck out eight or more batters in six of those ten starts. He also showed great durability, going six or more innings in all but one of his final ten starts.

These are all very encouraging signs for the Nationals and Strasburg, but many concerns still linger. Can he stay healthy an entire season and possibly into the playoffs? Will the former best prospect in baseball finally have the breakout, Cy Young contending year Nats fans have all been expecting since he made it to the major leagues? Finally, the most important questions facing the Nationals and the veteran right-hander is can he replace, and maybe improve upon, the production and durability of Jordan Zimmermann, arguably the Nationals most consistent pitcher in franchise history?

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Doing this will not be an easy task to accomplish. In his five full seasons in Washington, Zimmermann started at least 32 games in all but one season (26 starts in 2011). Zimmermann also posted no worse than a 3.66 ERA in all of those seasons, having an ERA under 3.00 in two of them.

For Strasburg to have the production needed to put the Nationals over the top it may come down to just one thing, health. Over the course of his career , he has battled some injuries every season, and has never been lucky enough to stay completely healthy for a whole year. Although injuries have been an issue for the former San Diego State product, one thing has been certain, the talent has always been there.

When he has been able to be on the field, he has been one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. The right-hander has never posted an ERA worse than his 3.46 in 2015, and has had outstanding strikeout numbers in all four full seasons. When he is on his game, Strasburg could be arguably the most unhittable pitcher in the game, but to be great you have to be able to stay on the field.

Going into a contract year, Strasburg is going to face very high expectations and a lot of pressure from himself and the outside world. If the Nationals really want to make a run in the NL East this season, they are going to need the veteran to have his most dominant season yet. The way things shake out for Strasburg in our Nation’s Capital may end up being defined by if he is just able to stay healthy.

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If he is able to do this and have a dominant season, it may be enough to prove to the Washington Nationals organization. he can be reliable enough for them to give him a long term deal. If luck finally starts to go Strasburg’s way, and he is able to stay fully healthy for an entire year, the rest of the league better watch out.