In which Strasburg debuts and we blog about it…


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.