Patrick Reddington: All eyes again on Strasburg in Cleveland

Stephen Strasburg’s second major league start took place in Cleveland’s Progressive Field on June 13, 2010. After a dazzling 14-strikeout major league debut at Nationals Park, the Nats and Strasburg took the show on the road. The game between a 31-33 Nationals team and a 25-37 Indians team was picked up on a national broadcast solely because Strasburg was going to be on the mound. In the first two games of that three-game weekend set, the Indians drew 22,041 Friday night and 19,484 Saturday to a park that had drawn a league-worst average of 16,023 to that point. The Sunday matinee sold tickets to 32,876 fans. There were Strasburg jerseys for sale in Progressive Field.

The entire baseball world was watching.

Strasburg threw 95 pitches in 5 1/3 innings of work that Sunday afternoon, walked five, struck out eight and earned the second win of his major league career. Not everyone was bowled over, however. Though he was impressed with what he saw from the Nationals’ 2009 first-round pick, Indians Hall of Famer Bob Feller said after the start he was withholding judgement.

“Call me when he wins his first 100,” Feller told reporters.

Feller, of course, struck out 15 and 17 batters in his own rookie campaign as a 17-year-old phenom in 1936. He’d won 100 games by the time he was 22, struck out 1,233 and thrown 1,448 1/3 innings before his career was interrupted by World War II. Feller enlisted in the U.S. Navy and spent three years in the military before returning to the mound as a 26-year-old in 1945. The hard-throwing right-hander would go on to play 12 more seasons and win 159 more games before he retired at 37 in 1956.

So, you can understand the former major league pitcher not being blown away by two starts of Strasburg’s major league career, impressive as they were. Strasburg would win five games in his first campaign before suffering a torn UCL, which forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery. The right-hander returned to the mound late in 2011 and made 28 starts before he was shut down in 2012 and another 12 starts this season before a strained lat muscle forced him from the mound after two innings of a May 31 outing in Atlanta. Strasburg was placed on the disabled list, but he’s scheduled to return to the mound Sunday for his second career start in Cleveland.

All eyes will be on Strasburg again as he goes for his 25th major league win in what will be just the 58th start of the 24-year-old right-hander’s four-year career. This time, most will be watching for any sign of lingering injury. Strasburg couldn’t mask the issues he was having with his lower back on the mound against the Braves. He was obviously uncomfortable and later admitted it was an issue that had cropped up as he warmed up prior to several starts before the one that led to his DL stint. The scrutiny Strasburg has received thus far in his career, at least after his first few outings in 2010, has mostly focused on his injury issues. Last year’s innings-limit discussion dominated the coverage of the right-hander’s third major league season with everyone watching for signs of setback and wondering aloud if the Nationals would really shut him down.

That will be the case again Sunday. All eyes will be on the mound looking for signs of an injury. Can Strasburg make it through the start? Will he be rolling his shoulders again as he did when his back acted up in Atlanta? Will he be shaking his arm out as he did in a late April start in Turner Field, drawing the attention of the announcers calling the game, writers watching it and fans scrutinizing his every action on the mound? After that start Davey Johnson told reporters that Strasburg experienced irritation in his forearm which was blamed on an electrical impulse machine he used before that day’s game. Everyone panicked. Another injury? Strasburg promised reporters he would make his next start and he did, throwing 95 pitches in seven innings against Pittsburgh in another game in which everyone was watching more to see if the pitcher showed signs of injury than how many he struck out or how hard his fastball was.

After a less-impressive start against Chicago on May 11, Strasburg got on a bit of a roll. He was 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA in his next four starts and 25 innings pitched, over which he held opposing hitters to a .183/.253/.244 line. Then he suffered the lat injury, which has kept him off the mound since May 31. Sunday afternoon, Washington will have its No. 1 starter back on the mound. The entire baseball world will once again be watching - for any signs of a lingering issue with Strasburg’s back.

Unfortunately, Feller will not be one of the fans in Progressive Field for Strasburg’s second career start against the Indians. The one-time phenom passed away Dec. 15, 2010 at 92. Strasburg is still 76 wins away from impressing Feller.

Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of’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 but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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