Then-27-year-old 2001 first-round pick Gavin Floyd downplayed the significance of facing a then-21-year-old Stephen Strasburg when the two first-round picks met for the first time during the Nats’ 2009 No. 1 overall selection’s rookie campaign in 2010. “It’s the last thing you need to worry about, is the opposing pitcher,” Floyd told MLB.com before the game in the nation’s capital, “You’re facing their lineup, not the opposing pitcher.”
The match-up brought the best out of the White Sox starter, however, who was on a hot streak at the time, having flirted with a no-hitter in his previous outing against the Cubs. Floyd got an early lead that night in D.C. and threw 6 2/3 scoreless before giving up a run in a game Chicago eventually won 2-1. Floyd went eight innings that night, allowing just four hits and one earned run.
In Strasburg’s next start that year, at home against Kansas City, the Nats right-hander faced Brian Bannister, who was 29 at the time. Bannister threw six scoreless against the Nationals that day, giving up just five hits and two walks in a game the Royals eventually won 1-0. Before Strasburg faced Atlanta right-hander Tim Hudson in the start that followed the match-up with Bannister, the Braves’ veteran starter told USA Today that everyone who faced Strasburg was going to bring their best to the match-up.
“Every team is coming at him with their A game. He’s the hot rookie who’s supposed to beat you,” Hudson said, and Braves’ catcher Brian McCann added that the excitement surrounding Strasburg’s start created a playoff atmosphere that brought the best out of everyone.
After missing most of the 2011 campaign recovering from Tommy John surgery, Strasburg brought out the best in two young pitchers he faced in starts against Tampa Bay and Colorado in 2012. Chris Archer, a sixth-round 2005 pick who was the Rays’ top-ranked right-hander before the 2012 season according to Baseball America, made his major league debut opposite Strasburg last June, struggling and giving up three runs (one earned) in the first, but battling as the Rays fought their way back into the game and completing five scoreless frames after the shaky first.
Two starts later at Nationals Park against the Rockies, Strasburg faced Indians 2010 first-round pick Drew Pomeranz, 23, who allowed just one hit that night and left the game with a 3-0 lead after six scoreless against the Nationals. Pomeranz earned his first win of the year after going 0-3 in his first six starts last season.
The Nationals’ right-handed ace has to be used to it by now. Tonight in New York’s Citi Field, Strasburg goes up against another highly regarded young pitcher who’s looking forward to facing the most-hyped starter to come along in the last decade. Twenty-four-year-old Mets 2010 first-round pick Matt Harvey is 3-0 three starts into his second major league season with a 0.82 ERA, 2.22 FIP, six walks (2.45 walks per nine innings) and 25 Ks (10.23 strikeouts per nine innings) in 22 innings pitched.
Strasburg, now 24, is 1-2 with a 2.95 ERA, 3.14 FIP, fives walks (2.45 BB/9) and 15 Ks (7.36 K/9) in three starts and 18 1/3 innings pitched.
The two pitchers will share the spotlight in a marquee early-season match-up in the first of three games for the Nats in New York. Mets manager Terry Collins told the Newark Star-Ledger in the lead-up to the game that he knows his starter will be up for the opportunity to face off against the Nationals ace:
“I don’t think there’s any question Matt gets up for it. He loves the big stage, and that’s what he’s on. He’s got a big challenge tomorrow. If you look at some of the games that he’s had to pitch, they’ve been against some pretty impressive guys. And he’s getting another one tomorrow.”
Harvey downplayed the one-on-one battle against Strasburg. “We’re both young guys,” Harvey told the Star-Ledger, adding, “I don’t necessarily want to be like anybody else who I’m pitching against. I want to be my own guy. I want to be an individual.” The Mets’ right-hander told ESPN.com that the big issue for him in Friday’s start will be controlling the “extra adrenaline” that’s bound to result from such an exciting environment.
It’s a lesson Strasburg has had to learn in opening day starts the last two seasons and while pitching in “playoff environments” last summer as the Nats fought their way to the National League East crown. It will be the 14th major league start for Harvey, who made 46 starts over two seasons in the Mets system before making his major league debut last July. Strasburg made just 11 starts in the Nats’ minor league system before debuting in Washington in June 2010. Friday will be Strasburg’s 48th major league outing. If facing Strasburg brings out the best in Harvey, the Nationals might be in trouble.
Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.