In which Strasburg debuts and we blog about it…

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strasburg warming.jpgAs HardballTalk readers and baseball fans in general, you’re all well aware of the story by now. 

Selected No. 1 overall by the Nationals in last year’s first-year player draft, Stephen Strasburg has cruised through the minor league ranks with spectacular numbers at every stop.  In five starts this season at Double-A Harrisburg, he posted a 1.64 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP and 27 strikeouts in 22.1 innings, earning a quick promotion to Triple-A.  For the Syrcause Chiefs he then rattled off a 4-1 record, a 1.08 ERA and a 38/7 K/BB ratio in six starts.

Now Strasburg is in the big leagues, and will make his MLB debut for the Nats tonight in the nation’s capital.  He has the luxury of facing a light-hitting Pirates team, but a sold out crowd of over 45,000 people in D.C. will present a kind of challenge that he has never before encountered.  Will he succeed?  Will he fail?  Will he allow two or three runs over six innings like any run-of-the-mill major league pitcher?  Stick with HBT tonight and we’ll all find out.  I’m Drew Silva and I will be your guide — your Strasburg Sacagawea.

This is the official Strastivus-Strasmas-Strasnzaa-Strassukah open thread.  Happy Holidays!

7:01pm: Strasburg was given a loud standing ovation on his way from bullpen warm-ups to the dugout.  First pitch is coming up in about 10 minutes, at which point the 40,000-plus fans that have filled Nationals Park will realize that they’re simply at an early-June baseball game.  Right?

7:04pm: The Nats seriously shot off fireworks as Strasburg took the field.  Seriously.  I think there was a guy waving a big flag as well.  What in the world is going on…

7:06pm: Strasburg’s first pitch was clocked at 97 MPH and called a ball.  Let it be written.

7:11pm: Um, wow.  Strasburg just burned Pirates outfielder Lastings Milledge with a 99 MPH fastball, a knee-crippling curve and a fall-off-the-table 83 MPH changeup for a three-pitch strikeout.  HE’S PERFECT THROUGH ONE!

7:12pm: As MLB Network’s Bob Costas notes, “The other team must have a starting pitcher.  It’s a rule.”  Thus, Jeff Karstens has taken the mound in D.C. for the Pirates.

7:14pm: Oh, and Karstens promptly gives up a solo home run to Nationals third baseman — and former Face of the Franchise — Ryan Zimmerman.  The Nats are up 1-0 through the first inning.

7:19pm:
Strasburg ran a 3-0 count on Pirates slugger Garrett Jones, but battled back with three straight 97-plus MPH fastballs.  Yikes.

7:22pm: The no-hitter is dead.  The perfect game is dead.  Strasburg just yielded an opposite-field single to Pittsburgh third baseman Andy LaRoche, once a highly-regarded prospect and now a .247/.312/.342 hitter on a bad Pirates team.  Ironic, no?

7:28pm: Strasburg struck out the side in the second inning with an array of nasty slurves, fastballs and changeups.  He’s thrown 30 total pitches, 18 of which have gone for strikes.  The Nats are expected to pull him right around 90. 

7:35pm: As Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports notes, Strasburg threw a 90 MPH changeup in the second inning.  Karstens, the Pirates’ starter, hasn’t registered a fastball in the 90s at any point tonight.

7:40pm: This is incredible.  Really, just incredible.  Strasburg has fanned six of his last eight batters and the Pirates look absolutely hopeless.  Any major league team would.  The Nationals still lead 1-0.

7:44pm: Strasburg grounded out in his first major league at-bat and looked a little sluggish chugging down the line.  Let it be known that we here at HBT have spotted a weakness.

7:56pm:
Lastings Milledge, who played a forgettable season-plus with the Nats, is getting booed tonight in the nation’s capital.  Maybe there really are baseball fans in Washington.  Take that, Montreal.

8:01pm:
Welp, it appears Strasburg may be human.  He allowed three hits in the fourth inning, including a two-run homer to Pirates right fielder Delwyn Young, who shrugged off the hype surrounding Strasburg earlier this week:

“I really couldn’t care less, to be honest with you,” Young told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I got nothing to say, really. It’s just another pitcher. … Hey, Mark Prior.”

The Pirates lead 2-1 heading into the bottom of the fourth.  Strasburg has thrown 56 pitches.

8:14pm: After an impressive fifth, Strasburg is up to eight strikeouts and is still regularly hitting 99 MPH on the stadium gun.  He has tallied 70 pitches, though, so he will need to have an efficient sixth frame or the mass exodus at Nationals Park may begin.

8:23pm: The Nats failed to score a run in the fifth and still trail the Pirates 2-1.  I suppose Strasburg should start getting used to the lack of run support.  Bryce Harper, after all, is still a handful of years away.

8:27pm: Strasburg has faced 20 batters and struck out half of ’em.  That’s a total of 10 Ks, if you’re keeping score at home … and lack basic math skills.

8:28pm: OK, make that 11 Ks.

8:30pm: Strasburg has thrown 80 pitches through six innings, so he’s certainly capable of heading out for the seventh.  The sold-out crowd will want it.  I want it.  You guys want it.  Heck, Bob Costas wants it.  Everybody screeeeeeeeeaaam.

8:33pm: Nats first baseman Adam Dunn just crushed a two-run homer into the massive D.C. crowd.  Strasburg is now in line for the win with his club up 3-2.  Is this game reading like a fairy tale, or is that just me?

8:36pm: Nats outfielder Josh Willingham has joined the party with a solo charge to deep left field.  D.C. leads 4-2.  With that cushion, you have to wonder if manager Jim Riggleman will call it a night for Strasburg.

8:40pm: Costas just opined that Pirates reliever Evan Meek has been “anything but meek” this season.  You can’t write this stuff.  Wait, you can?  Check that.  You can, indeed, write this stuff.

8:44pm: All indications point to Strasburg coming out for the seventh inning.  He was in the batter’s box, ready to hit in the sixth and Nats reliever Drew Storen was warming up at a less-than-brisk pace in the bullpen.

8:46pm:
He’s out there!

8:49pm: Strasburg’s 85th pitch was clocked at 99 MPH and he just fanned the Pirates’ Garrett Jones for his 12th strikeout of the evening.

8:51pm:
He struck out the side on 13 pitches in the seventh inning.  That’s 14 Ks — a new Nationals franchise record.  Wow.  Just wow.

8:53pm: Strasburg is done torturing the Pirates for the evening.  He struck out 14 of the 24 batters he faced, and allowed only four hits and two earned runs in seven impressive innings.  He really only made one major mistake, leaving a pitch over the plate that Pirates outfielder Delwyn Young launched into the stands. 

The 21-year-old college and minor league phenom just became one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball, at least in my eyes.  Everything he t
hrows is hard, and everything has tailing movement.  If Strasburg pitches every night like he did this Tuesday evening in D.C., we’re going to bear witness to some truly special performances, and maybe a special career.  He’s as good as advertised.  Heck, he’s better than advertised. And it would appear that the good people of Washington just found themselves something to root for in the summer other than a rain storm to break the dense humidity.

Cubs, Jake Arrieta avoid arbitration at $10.7 million

Jake Arrieta
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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The Associated Press is reporting that the Cubs and starter Jake Arrieta have avoided arbitration, agreeing to a $10.7 million salary for the 2016 season. That marks the highest salary on a one-year deal for a pitcher with four years of service, the AP notes. Arrieta and the Cubs were set to go before an independent arbitrator but now can simply focus on the season ahead.

Arrieta, 29, is in his second of three years of arbitration eligibility. He had filed for $13 million while the Cubs countered at $7.5 million. The $5.5 million gap was the largest among players who did not come to terms with their respective teams by the January deadline. The $10.7 million salary is $450,000 above the midpoint between the two submitted figures.

Arrieta won the National League Cy Young Award for his performance this past season, narrowly edging out Zack Greinke, then with the Dodgers. Arrieta led the majors with 22 wins, four complete games, and three shutouts. With that, he compiled a 1.77 ERA and a 236/48 K/BB ratio across 229 innings.

Once a top prospect in the Orioles’ minor league system, Arrieta struggled in the majors but found immediate success with the Cubs in 2013 after the O’s traded him along with Pedro Strop in exchange for Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman.

Giants sign Conor Gillaspie to a minor league deal

Los Angeles Angels third baseman Conor Gillaspie is unable to hold on to the ball after catching a grounder hit by Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain in the fourth inning of a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
AP Photo/Colin E. Braley
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Per Baseball America’s Matt Eddy, the Giants have signed infielder Conor Gillaspie to a minor league deal. Gillaspie was selected by the Giants in the supplemental round of the 2008 draft, then was traded to the White Sox in February 2013.

Gillaspie, 28, hit a meager .228/.269/.359 with four home runs and 24 RBI in 253 plate appearances between the White Sox and Angels during the 2015 season. Almost all of his playing time has come at third base but he can also play first base if needed.

The Giants, thin on depth, will allow Gillaspie to audition in spring training for a spot on the 25-man roster.

Joe Nathan plans to pitch in 2016

Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joe Nathan throws against the Chicago White Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game in Detroit Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that free agent reliever Joe Nathan, recovering from Tommy John surgery, plans to pitch in 2016 according to his agent Dave Pepe. According to Pepe, Nathan’s workouts are “going well” and the right-hander is “definitely planning on playing this year.”

Nathan, 41, got the final out on Opening Day (April 6) against the Twins before going on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his right elbow, causing him to miss the next 161 games. He will likely be able to contribute out of the bullpen in late May or early June if he has no setbacks. On a minor league deal or incentive-laden major league deal, Nathan could make for a low-risk gamble.

Over a 15-season career that dates back to 1999 (he did not pitch in the majors in 2001 or 2010), Nathan has 377 saves with a 2.89 ERA and a 967/340 K/BB ratio over 917 innings.

The Rays are considering reliever Tyler Clippard

New York Mets pitcher Tyler Clippard throws during the eighth inning of Game 4 of the National League baseball championship series against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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On Thursday, we learned that the Diamondbacks were still considering free agent reliever Tyler Clippard. You can add the Rays to the list as well, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

The Rays traded lefty reliever Jake McGee to the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Corey Dickerson in late January, so Clippard would be able to slot right in behind closer Brad Boxberger. Clippard, 30, compiled a 2.92 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 31 walks over 71 innings in a season split between the Athletics and Mets. The strikeout rate was at its lowest since the right-hander become a full-time reliever in 2009, and his walk rate was at its highest since 2010, which may be a factor in his still being a free agent in February.