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Stephen Strasburg

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Stephen James Strasburg

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Stephen Strasburg is arguably the most celebrated young pitcher to enter the major league scene since Texas's David Clyde back in 1973. Surprisingly, he was not a top-rated prospect coming out of high school, but became an amateur sensation while attending San Diego State University. Strasburg was the #1 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft and was the lone amateur on the US Olympic team in 2008.

Strasburg was 1-0 in the 2008 World University Championship, allowing only 2 hits and no runs in 14 innings, walking 3 and whiffing 22. He led the event in strikeouts, 4 ahead of Yuki Saito, and helped the US win Gold. He also pitched the most innings of anyone who did not allow an earned run.

Strasburg was the only amateur chosen for Team USA for the 2008 Olympics. He shut down the Dutch national team to one hit (a Sharnol Adriana single) and one walk in 7 innings while fanning 11 in a win. He was less effective in the semifinals, allowing 2 runs in the third inning to the Cuban national team and a solo homer to Alfredo Despaigne in the 4th en route to a loss to Norge Vera. The US finished with Bronze. Strasburg was 1-1 with a 1.64 ERA in Beijing, striking out 16 in 11 innings.

Strasburg was reportedly signed by scout Mark Baca for four years and $15.1 million with the Washington Nationals in 2009, after being picked first overall in the amateur draft. Represented by super agent Scott Boras, he stretched negotiations to the very limit before signing for the record bonus.

He impressed all observers during the Nationals' spring training in 2010, but the team's top brass did not want to have him start his pro career straight in the major leagues, so he went to the minors to start the season. In his pro debut for the AA Harrisburg Senators of the Eastern League, he struck out eight in five innings on April 11 and hit 100 mph on the radar gun. He allowed four runs, but only one of them was earned, on a first-inning double by Alex Presley and single by Miles Durham. He also doubled in a run while facing Rudy Owens. After the game, Strasburg joked "I'm going to call [college coach Tony] Gwynn up tomorrow and let him have it" for not having Stephen bat during his collegiate career. He dominated competition in both AA and AAA over the first two months of the season, and it was clearly just a matter of time before he would pitch in the big leagues.

Stephen Strasburg pitches in his debut game.

Strasburg was called up by the Nationals in June 2010 and made his big league debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 8th amidst a media frenzy. In 7 innings, he struck out 14, one shy of the record for a debut, set by J.R. Richard and Karl Spooner. He walked none and allowed four hits, including a two-run homer by Delwyn Young, in a win against Jeff Karstens. In his next start against the Cleveland Indians on June 13, Strasburg struck out 8 batters in 5 1/3 innings in picking up another win, giving him 22 Ks for the first 12 1/3 innings of his major league career. He also issued his first 5 walks and gave up another homer for the lone run he allowed, a solo shot by Travis Hafner. He was named the National League's Player of the Week in recognition of his two excellent starts. In his third game, on June 18th, facing the Chicago White Sox, he struck out 10 more batters to set a record with 32 over his first three starts; the previous mark had been held by Richard with 29. He was not involved in the decision as the Nats lost 2-1, in 11 innings. He suffered his first loss on June 23 in spite of another dominant start against the Kansas City Royals in which he gave up only one run and struck out 9 batters in 6 innings, but lost 1-0. He got his first major league hit off winner Brian Bannister and after the game, his K/W ratio stood at 41-5. His 41 strikeouts beat the 40 recorded by Herb Score in 1955 for most by a pitcher in his first 4 career starts.

On July 27, he was scratched out of a scheduled start because of shoulder tightness; the Nationals announced immediately that he would undergo an MRI. He returned to action shortly thereafter, but on August 21, he left a game in the 5th inning with a strained tendon in his right forearm, leading to another MRI and his being placed on the disabled list. The MRI uncovered a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, meaning that he would need to undergo Tommy John surgery and likely miss a year of action. For the year, he went 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts and was named to the 2010 Topps All-Star Rookie Team in spite of his shortened season, the voters having felt that he had displayed enough brilliance in his short stint in the majors to earn the honor.

The surgery was performed on September 3rd, and, on schedule, he began throwing off a mound for the first time in a bullpen session on May 23rd the following year, with the target of being back in the majors at the start of the 2012 season. That said, his recovery from the surgery was remarkably fast, as the Nats scheduled him for a first rehabilitation appearance with the Class A Hagerstown Suns on August 7th, setting him up for a potential return to the major leagues in September - six months ahead of schedule. He only threw 31 pitches in his return to the mound against the Greensboro Grasshoppers, striking out 4 in 1 2/3 innings; both his control and velocity were excellent. After four starts in Class A, during which he went 0-1, 6.75, he moved up to AAA Syracuse on August 27th and showed some of the previous year's flash, pitching 5 perfect innings against the Rochester Red Wings while consistently throwing his fastball in the mid-90s before giving up a one-out single to Steve Holm in the 6th inning. He was then removed from the game, having reached his pitch count limit. He made his return to the major leagues on September 6th, pitching 5 scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers; he left with a 3-0 lead, but his teammates were unable to hold it, losing 7-3. He capped a remarkable comeback season by earning his only big league win of the year on the season's last day, September 28th, when he shut out the Florida Marlins for 6 innings while striking out 10. His teammates then managed to keep the lead and won the game, 3-1, in the last game played by the Marlins under the "Florida" moniker, and the last game in Sun Life Stadium.

He was healthy when he showed up for spring training with the Nationals in 2012, but manager Davey Johnson indicated that he would limit his innings to around 150-160, following a path set the previous year for teammate Jordan Zimmermann. However, that did not prevent the Nats from handing him the assignment as the Opening Day starter for the first time of his career. He won his first game of the season on April 11th, defeating the New York Mets at Citi Field on the 50th anniversary of the team's first game; he pitched 6 scoreless innings in a 4-0 win, throwing a career-high 108 pitches. He then capped an excellent first month by winning the National League's Pitcher of the Month honors. He was 2-0, 1.13 while leading the circuit with 34 strikeouts; he allowed 4 earned runs all month over 5 starts, all of which were quality starts. He hit his first major league home run on May 20th at Nationals Park, driving a pitch from the Baltimore Orioles' Wei-Yin Chen into the left field bullpen, immediately following a homer by catcher Jesus Flores. He left that game after only five innings, complaining of arm fatigue, but still was credited with his team's 9-3 win. He reached 200 career strikeouts in his 29th career start, tying for 5th-fastest to 200 Ks since 1900, after Hideo Nomo (23 starts), Kerry Wood (23), Dwight Gooden (25) and Mark Prior (27) and even with Herb Score (29). He also became the first major leaguer to 100 strikeouts that season, doing so in a 5-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on June 13th, even though the Nationals were being very prudent with him and trying to limit his innings and pitch counts as much as possible. Indeed, when he left that game, he had pitched only 77 innings in 13 starts, but those were of extremely high quality, as attested by his 8-1 record, 2.45 ERA, and 60 hits allowed. He had only walked 20 batters when he reached triple figures in strikeouts, showing excellent control on top of his tremendous stuff. As a result of his excellent first half, he got to pitch in the 2012 All-Star Game, but the question of his innings limit began to loom bigger. In mid-July, former pitcher John Smoltz offered him a bit of unsolicited advice, stating that he should fake an injury that causes him to miss playing time in July and August, in order to have innings remaining in the bank for a possible pennant race and postseason run in September and October. General Manager Mike Rizzo then explained that he alone would make that call, and that there was no preset number of innings. On September 2nd, however, Johnson announced that Strasburg had only two starts left and would make his last appearance on September 12th. But when Strasburg was roughed up in his next outing against the Miami Marlins on September 7th, the Nationals announced that he had in fact just made his last start of the season, ending the year at 15-6, 3.16, with 197 strikeouts in 159 1/3 innings.

Strasburg was back pitching for the Nats on Opening Day on April 1, 2013, and he was at his best, allowing three hits and no walks to the Marlins in 7 shutout innings. Bryce Harper backed him up by hitting a pair of solo homers, and the Nationals won, 2-0. He continued to pitch well but lost his next four starts, as the Nats were unable to generate any offense to help him win - his ERA was a solid 3.16 at that point. On April 29th, he gave up only 2 runs 6 innings in a no-decision against the Atlanta Braves, but looked out of sorts, continually shaking his arm while on the mound, and then complaining of tightness in his forearm. It turned out to be a false alert, however, as he missed no time and on May 16th, had the longest outing of his career thus far, going 8 innings in beating the San Diego Padres, 6 - 2. It was his first career start in his hometown. On May 31st, he had more trouble, leaving a start against the Atlanta Braves in the 2nd inning because of more discomfort caused by muscle tightness. His lack of wins and the Nats' disappointing performance meant that he was not selected for the 2013 All-Star Game in spite of an excellent 2.99 ERA in the first half. On August 11th, he threw his first career complete game and shutout, throwing a four-hitter at the Philadelphia Phillies in a 6-0 win. In his next start on August 11th against the Braves, however, he was warned by home plate umpire Marvin Hudson after hitting Justin Upton with a pitch in the 1st inning, immediately after a home run by Jason Heyward; in the 2nd, he walked lead-off hitter Jordan Schafer then threw two pitches behind the head of Andrelton Simmons and was ejected by Hudson, along with manager Davey Johnson, who came out to argue. Bryce Harper had been hit by Braves' pitches twice the day before and was out of the line-up as a result, which may have explained Strasburg's aggressiveness. He ended up with a record of 8-9 and an ERA of 3.00 in 30 starts, pitching 183 innings.

Strasburg was the National League strikeout leader in 2014, with 242 strikeouts in 215 innings, with both numbers a personal best. He went 14-11, 3.14 in 34 starts as the Nationals won the NL East title for the second time in three years; the big difference was of course that this time, he was available to pitch in the postseason.

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