VIERA, Fla.—Headed across the state today for a significant event in the National League East, Stephen Strasburg’s first bullpen session of the season for the Washington Nationals. The Nats hired 15 new scouts and five front office executives this off-season, trying to begin the work of surrounding Strasburg and his $15.1 million contract with a contending team.
The 21-year-old’s stuff is impressive: a 100-m.ph. fastball, slider/curve hybrid, change-up and two-seamer. Manager Jim Riggleman said that while Stasburg was unlikely to begin the season in the major leagues, he could be a factor in 2010.
Riggleman was interesting to listen to when he compared this no. 1 pick with other phenoms. More than a decade ago, he managed another thrilling talent, Kerry Wood of the Chicago Cubs. Despite early success, Wood found his career overwhelmed by arm injuries, and Riggleman intends to apply that history to his handling of Strasburg.
“Having to do it over, I probably would have pitched Kerry less,” Riggleman said. “These guys, their stuff is so good, whether it’s Dwight Gooden in his day, Josh Beckett, Kerry Wood, Sabathia. All these great arms—Felix Hernandez—hitters have a hard time hitting them, so they take a lot of pitches, they foul off a lot of pitches. So it takes them a lot of pitches to finish off the game. They dominated the game for six innings, but they’re out of pitches. But you’re trying to win the game.”
With that in mind, Riggleman will be very careful easing Strasburg into his career.
Nats GM Mike Rizzo also talked about using the Phillies as a prototype for his future success. In the National League East, a once-forlorn Phils franchise became a force largely by drafting well and emphasizing so-called “high character” players. Rizzo is employing the same approach in an effort to climb into contention, and possibly capitalize in several years when the Phils core reaches the natural end of its reign.
“Three, four years ago in Philly it wasn’t the case” that players wanted to come there, Rizzo said. “Pat (Gillick) started it, Ruben (Amaro Jr.) continued it, and now there’s no question that people want to go to Philly. They have a great atmosphere there. They are a franchise you model yourself on.”
More on Strasburg and the future of the Nats in tomorrow’s Inquirer, along with full coverage from Clearwater.