If, sometime shortly after 7:05 p.m., you feel something ranging from a slight tremor to a collision of celestial bodies, it’s because the most hyped matchup in baseball this year is finally here: Stephen Strasburg is all set to face Jason Heyward.
The two rookies, who have commanded more attention than any other in baseball this year (and, many would say, more attention than they’re warranted at their ages), will finally square off tonight when the Braves visit Nationals Park for a three-game set against the Nationals. If all goes according to their respective teams’ plans, Strasburg and Heyward will battle many more times over the next decade. But there’s something special about the first one.
It was supposed to happen last month, when Strasburg pitched in Atlanta for the first time, but Heyward was out of the lineup with a thumb injury. Not only is Heyward ready to go for Tuesday, he comes into the game on his hottest stretch of the year.
Heyward is working on a streak of six straight multi-hit games, and is hitting .538 with a 1.228 OPS in that stretch. He hasn’t homered in those six games, and seems to have lost some of is power from the thumb issues, but you’re not about to argue with .538, are you?
Waiting for him is Strasburg, who’s making his 10th big-league start and carrying forward a three-game win streak of his own. The Nationals right-hander joins Heyward, Giants catcher Buster Posey, Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez and Reds right-hander Mike Leake in one of the National League’s fiercest Rookie of the Year races in years.
But Tuesday night will be about Strasburg and Heyward, the 100-mph hurler and the 6-foot-7 slugger, as impressive a pair of physical specimens as you’ll find in the game. And Heyward, who let on some of his excitement before last month’s Nationals-Braves series, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he’s looking forward to finally facing Strasburg.
“It’s always great to face good pitchers; it’s always great to face the best,” he said. “That’s what the major leagues are about.”
Tuesday night won’t just be a tough test for Strasburg because of Heyward. It’ll be the first time he faces a team for the second time, and it doesn’t help that it’s the Braves, owners of the NL’s second-best record and third-best offense. The Braves roughed up Strasburg in the seventh inning of his start against them in June, turning a Strasburg-Tim Hudson pitcher’s duel into a comfortable 5-0 win.
But Heyward is the main attraction in the offense. And Tuesday night, he’ll share the spotlight with Strasburg for the first of many times. This is the one that will carry the most intrigue, when the two stars that have so far existed in separate worlds will finally get to match their appreciable talents against each other. It should be fun.