We're a week away from the Great Stephen Strasburg Debut now - I saw them putting in the laser light show this morning, and I think Michael Buffer has been booked to do the lineup introductions. And did you hear the game will be televised live?
Anyway, I wouldn't get too used to the idea of seeing Strasburg pitching to major league hitters, at least not for a few months. Manager Jim Riggleman said this morning the decision on Strasburg will be "a philosophical decision more than a performance decision." And philosophically, it sounds like the kid ain't making this team.
Here's the thing: Riggleman said today he looks at Double-A and Triple-A hitters, when it's the regular season and there's something on the line, as being a better test than major league hitters in spring training.
In the spring, hitters are taking pitches, working on different approaches and generally lacking the intensity they'd otherwise have. In the regular season, there's adrenaline flowing, even in the minors, and plenty of prospects will be lining up to try and tag Stephen Strasburg.
The Nationals want to see how he handles that, and want a longer look at how he handles pitching every fifth day, with a bullpen session in between. It also doesn't hurt that a couple months in the minors would likely delay his arbitration eligibility by a year, and push back the date when Scott Boras can take him to free agency.
But to me, it sounds like the threshold is pretty lofty for Strasburg to make the team.
"I've been very impressed, and I'm anticipating continuing to be impressed," Riggleman said. "I think we're going to be impressed with a lot of guys, but still, some of them aren't going to make the club."
Riggleman even hinted that the Nationals could give Strasburg a few starts in the spring, and then send him over to minor league camp if they've determined he'll start the season in the minors. That way, he can get regular work while the team's other pitchers get stretched out.
Now, if Strasburg comes out and throws no-hitters every time out, I think you'd have to say he's proven himself. But short of some otherworldly showing, I still would guess a June-ish arrival in the majors is more likely. Before Strasburg even pitches, the Nationals are qualifying the results somewhat. That's a savvy way to manage expectations, and it's probably also a good indicator that Strasburg isn't going to win a spot in the rotation on the basis of how he pitches in Florida.