Springtime Storylines: So, when is Stephen Strasburg going to get to Washington?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Stephen StaNatsburgs:


The
big question: So, when is Stephen Strasburg going to get to Washington?

I just got back from spending four days in our nation’s captial with my family. If I had managed to get beyond Smithsonian Hell and out into the bars I used to frequent back when I lived there, I’m sure the hot topic of conversation would have been Stephen Strasburg and when he’s going to make his major league debut for the Nats.

Wait, that’s not true. I used to frequent happy hours at cheesy bars south of DuPont Circle with my wife and her coworkers and the topic of conversation in those places tended to focus on marrying well, when, not if, everyone should go to law school and whether or not Heath Shuler would get another chance to start for the Redskins.  There were also rumors that President Clinton was messing around with the help, but none of us believed it because we were in our early 20s and had not yet lost faith in the ability of fast-talking womanizers to change their ways once they assumed the reins of true power.

OK, I’m getting kinda far afield here. The point is that if Washington is ever going to become the baseball town guys like George Will always said it would, Stephen Strasburg is going to be the reason why. So naturally the team sent him to Altoona, Pennsylvania to kick things off, leaving the sketchy climbers who inhabit whatever bar has taken the place of The Black Rooster to talk about whatever Redskins quarterback has taken the place of Heath Shuler.

But it was the right move!  Stephen Strasburg could go 35-0 for the Nats this season and he won’t elevate them beyond fourth place at the absolute most. And of course, calling him up early means the Nats will have to pay him more money sooner. The bad, albeit understandable move would have been to start him with the team on Opening Day in a cynical season ticket sales ploy.  Kudos to the Nats for thinking long term about this.  As much as I’d love to see Strasburg face big leaguers now, calling him up later is the smart play.

OK, here’s my guess: Strasburg’s first big league start comes against the Royals on June 23rd. Reasons: the date is about right to give him 15-20 starts for the season, the Royals are a nice harmless opponent, the game on the 23rd is a 4:35 PM Wednesday start which would normally be seen by about 825 people and, if everyone gets their stuff together on this, it could even be moved to 7:05 to be the ESPN game that night, which would be quite a coup for the Royals and the Nats.  Make it happen, everyone.

So what
else is
going on?

  • Ian Desmond won the starting shortstop job over Cristian Guzman. Much has been written about this move. It’s quite obviously a good one, as Desmond represents hope and the future and Guzman represents a lot of balls finding their way into left and center fields.
  • The lineup should be improved this year. A full season of Nyjer Morgan makes things a bit more exciting. Adam Kennedy was quite useful for Oakland last year. In Dunn and Zimmerman the Nats have as good a 1-2 punch as most anyone in the game. 
  • Adam Dunn: starting first baseman is a bit scary, but it’s probably not as scary as Adam Dunn: starting left fielder. And hey, you need the 40 bombs, and he’s gotta play somewhere.
  • The bullpen is going to be kinda scary again. As in scary-bad, not scary-good. The additions were Matt Capps, Sean Burnett and Brian Bruney, and those guys are far closer to being arsonists than firemen. On the bright side, the minute one of those guys blows a Strasburg lead he’ll probably be executed or something, so the pain will only last so long.
  • One last tidbit from my D.C. trip: My wife, who spent three years riding the Metro in to D.C. every day back when we lived there somehow managed to demagnetize one fare card and then miscalculate the fares on another, leading to her being on the wrong side of the gate from our daughter while she had to get exit fare at a busy station (my daughter’s panic level: high). She could have split her pants on national television and she would have been less embarrassed than she was about losing all of her D.C. kung-fu over the past 12 years. It was sad to watch, really.

So how
are they gonna do?

The Nats are headed in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go for this crew. 75 wins is probably the best they can expect, but given where they’ve been lately, that would represent considerable improvement. My wife: she’s probably going to have a lot of conversations with herself in the mirror, trying to figure out at what point she truly became a Midwesterner. I’m going to place it, generously, in late 2008, which is when she bought the station wagon.

Prediction: Fifth place in the NL East unless the Mets are ravaged by injuries again, in which case they could squeak out fourth.

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Gaylord Perry, two-time Cy Young winner, dies at 84

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
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GAFFNEY, S.C. — Baseball Hall of Famer and two-time Cy Young Award winner Gaylord Perry, a master of the spitball who wrote a book about using the pitch died at 84.

Perry died at his home in Gaffney of natural causes, Cherokee County Coroner Dennis Fowler said. He did not provide additional details.

“Gaylord Perry was a consistent workhorse and a memorable figure in his Hall of Fame career,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement, adding, “he will be remembered among the most accomplished San Francisco Giants ever … and remained a popular teammate and friend throughout his life.”

The native of Williamston, North Carolina, made history as the first player to win the Cy Young in both leagues, with Cleveland in 1972 and San Diego in 1978 just after turning 40.

Perry went 24-16 in his debut season with Cleveland after 10 years with the San Francisco Giants. He was 21-6 in his first season with the Padres in 1978 for his fifth and final 20-win season.

“Before I won my second Cy Young I thought I was too old – I didn’t think the writers would vote for me,” Perry said in an article on the National Baseball Hall of Fame website. “But they voted on my performance, so I won it.”

Perry, who pitched for eight major-league teams from 1962 until 1983, was a five-time All-Star who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991. He had a career record of 314-255, finished with 3,554 strikeouts and used a pitching style where he doctored baseballs or made batters believe he was doctoring them.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame said in a statement that Perry was “one of the greatest pitchers of his generation.” The Texas Rangers, whom Perry played for twice, said in a statement that the pitcher was “a fierce competitor every time he took the ball and more often than not gave the Rangers an opportunity to win the game.”

“The Rangers express their sincere condolences to Gaylord’s family at this difficult time,” the team’s statement said. “This baseball great will be missed.”

Perry’s 1974 autobiography was titled “Me and the Spitter,” and he wrote it in that when he started in 1962 he was the “11th man on an 11-man pitching staff” for the Giants. He needed an edge and learned the spitball from San Francisco teammate Bob Shaw.

Perry said he first threw it in May 1964 against the New York Mets, pitched 10 innings without giving up a run and soon after entered the Giants’ starting rotation.

He also wrote in the book that he chewed slippery elm bark to build up his saliva, and eventually stopped throwing the pitch in 1968 after MLB ruled pitchers could no longer touch their fingers to their mouths before touching the baseball.

According to his book, he looked for other substances, like petroleum jelly, to doctor the baseball. He used various motions and routines to touch different parts of his jersey and body to get hitters thinking he was applying a foreign substance.

Perry was ejected from a game just once for doctoring a baseball – when he was with Seattle in August 1982. In his final season with Kansas City, Perry and teammate Leon Roberts tried to hide George Brett’s infamous pine-tar bat in the clubhouse but was stopped by a guard. Perry was ejected for his role in that game, too.

After his career, Perry founded the baseball program at Limestone College in Gaffney and was its coach for the first three years.

The Hall of Fame’s statement noted that Perry often returned for induction weekend “to be with his friends and fans.”

“We extend our deepest sympathy to his wife, Deborah, and the entire Perry family,” Baseball Hall of Fame chairman Jane Forbes Clark said.