After last year’s disappointing season, Washington Nationals fans are hungry for this year’s season to start. All the players seem to be healthy, the new players acquired during the off-season promise to strengthen the team both offensively and on the mound, and pitching ace Stephen Strasburg has officially completed his rehab following Tommy John surgery in 2010 (finally!).
Because of this excitement, both fans and reporters alike have a tizzy fit every time something out of the ordinary comes out of Spring Training. Heaven forbid Bryce Harper sneezes too many times or third baseman Ryan Zimmerman spends some time fielding balls at first base – people love to read into things when most times there is no reason to do so. The latest issue is regarding Stephen Strasburg in what I personally consider a non-issue.
The Nationals have their first game this Friday in Port St. Lucie against the New York Mets, and they will be sending Tyler Jordan to the mound. Jordan is one of a handful of pitchers vying for the coveted fifth spot in the starting rotation, which already features Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and off-season acquisition Doug Fister. Spring Training is the time for guys like Jordan to prove themselves – it’s an audition, a job interview, and a paid internship all in one, so of course they’re going to want to give him as many opportunities as possible to prove himself before the start of the regular season.
For Saturday’s home opener, the Nationals will be starting Jordan Zimmermann, one of the most underrated pitchers in the Majors today. “J-Zimm” went 19-9 last season, with an ERA of 3.25. The “hometown” crowd in Viera will be happy to see him start, though he’ll probably only pitch a couple of innings.
So why isn’t Strasburg starting Saturday’s game? Oh my gosh, is he hurt? Is something wrong? Everyone is all a-twitter about it and people just need to chill. Strasburg will get his chance to pitch – it’s only the first week of Spring Training games with a month to go before Opening Day. Strasburg is very fickle and prone to injury – if you start him out too early, he could possibly not be available towards the end of the season when he would be needed the most. So I can see why Nationals’ manager Matt Williams and pitching coach Steve McCatty are not rushing to get Strasburg on the mound. Stephen knows what to do – he’s done this before – and knowing his tough work ethic, he probably worked out a lot during the off-season. Strasburg doesn’t have anything to prove, and neither do Gio, Zimmermann, and Fister. They will all get their chances to pitch this spring – there is no reason to rush them.
And guess what? None of the starting outfielders (Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and Denard Span) will be making the trip to Port Saint Lucie for Friday’s game. Not because they’re hurt or because there is something wrong with them – it is common for starters to not travel early on in Spring Training, plus it gives the other guys who were invited to camp an opportunity to play and showcase their talent. Now if it was game seven of the World Series and those three guys weren’t in the lineup, then it would be OK to worry.
For now, sit back, stay warm, and catch some Spring Training games on MASN and on Nationals radio. And check out those guys who don’t normally get a chance to play much; you’ll be surprised how talented most of them really are.