Stephen Strasburg's debut with the Nationals can't come soon enough for some people. The heavy speculation is that it will come during June's first homestand, likely against the Reds, but it's possible they'll put it off another week.
Strasburg has been dominant on two levels of the minor leagues this year, and expectations are going to be high when he finally takes the hill at Nats Park.
I was chatting with Don Loun today. Loun, a lefthander from Frederick, MD, made his debut with the Senators in 1964 after a minor league season where he won 10 games and dominated the same two leagues that Strasburg has pitched in this year. On Wednesday September 23 he took the mound at DC Stadium against the Boston Red Sox and acquitted himself pretty well.
He pitched a complete game, 1-0, 5-hit shutout that night before a cozy crowd of just 1,491. He struck out two - including Carl Yastrzemski - and walked no one. The game's only run scored on a double play ball in the second inning.
Loun got another start 10 days later at Fenway Park and gave up 3 earned runs in 4 innings before being removed for a pinch hitter. He took the loss to finish the year 1-1, 2.08.
And never got back to the majors. Loun's story is a familiar one for those of you who followed the game in the 1960's. Pitchers worked differently in those days, and when they got hurt, rehab was hit or miss, and a lot of careers ended prematurely. Loun hung on in the minor leagues through 1969 before finally hanging 'em up at age 28.
Loun says he wasn't really phased by getting to the big leagues. "I had a pretty good changeup," he said, "and I'd pitched in front of bigger crowds in the minors. The only time I felt a little overwhelmed was having to hit against Dick Radatz." Radatz, Boston's huge (6' 6", 230 pounds) reliever, pitched the bottom of the eighth when Loun came to the plate. "He was the biggest thing I'd ever seen on the mound," he said, "and the ball was on me before I could even think about swinging the bat." He struck out and was happy to walk away from the plate.
I don't imagine that Stephen Strasburg - or any Nationals' pitching prospect, really - will match Loun's debut. It's doubtful he'll be allowed to go more than six innings in many, if any, of his big league starts this year. Still, it's interesting to see how the game has evolved over these past 46 years, and to recall the stylish southpaw from Frederick.