Stephen Strasburg is just 27 and he’s already been in MLB for seven years. He was one of the most heavily-hyped prodigies in history when the Nationals drafted him with the first pick of the 2009 Draft.
He and his current Nats teammate Bryce Harper were touted as once-in-a-generation, future first-ballot Hall of Famers. He came into the game getting paper and despite his share of ups and downs, that hasn't stopped.
After being drafted and “anointed” as the next Nolan Ryan, the lanky, 6-foot-4 fireballer out of San Diego State became the latest benefactor of the Scott Boras cheddar express and signed a record-breaking four-year, $15.1 million contract with the Nationals.
Strasburg crashed the gates and the Game with a 14-K performance in his first career start and the anticipation officially blew through the roof. Clayton Kershaw wasn’t the biggest pitching name in the game in 2009. It was the golden-armed rookie hurler Stephen Strasburg with his array of pitches and warp speed velocity. Baseball purists refer to dudes who throw hot cheese on every pitch like Strasburg as a “live arm.”
Unfortunately, Strasburg’s rookie season survived just 12 starts before the young phenom, who had struck out 92 batters in 68 innings to that point, tore a ligament in his pitching elbow. A couple of Tommy John surgeries and a year of rehabilitation followed. He rejoined the Nationals on September 6, 2011, but made just five starts that season.
I have written my share of articles on Stephen “Flashburg.” The Nationals ace has been the epitome of a pitcher who has more ability than anyone, but can’t shake the injury bug long enough for his potential dominance to fall into place for an extended period of time.
Since that injury, Strasburg has been pampered like a refurbished 1957 Chevy. And the attempts by the Nationals to coddle him hasn't stopped him from making six trips to the DL throughout this career.
Recently, the Nationals blessed Strasburg with a new 7-year, $175 million extension. This big pay day comes on the heels of his sensational pitching performances early in this 2016 season. Strasburg is 5-0 with a 2.76 ERA so far this season for a team that is fighting the Mets tooth-and-nail for the NL East crown.
When he returned in 2012 and was able to make 28 starts and win 15 games, he looked like he would overcome the injury and still become the legend MLB envisioned. Since then, he has the eighth-most strikeouts in all of MLB and the fourth-highest ratio of strikeouts per nine innings (10.30).
Strasburg made 87 starts over the next three seasons and despite fighting injuries, he performed at All-Star levels. And with a clean bill of health, he’s kicked off this season like the embodiment of every expectation and praise ever bestowed upon him.
The Nationals probably figured that the way Strasburg is pitching, they might as well lock him up now and capitalize on the momentum -- even if he does get hurt again eventually. Strasburg is still a huge name and he is a homegrown product.
With his track record, there’s no guarantee that the Nats didn’t just throw away the cost of a small Greek Island off the Ionian Sea. However, without an extension, Strasburg would have become a coveted free agent after this season and some team was going to throw a King’s ransom at him despite the health risks.
But since coming off the DL last season he is third in MLB in ERA and Jessica Mendoza of ESPN explained it perfectly when she said, “He is hitting his stride.”
Fans just want the young guy to stay healthy at this point, especially with the Nats looking playoff bound again as they were in 2012, when Strasburg was rolling and then shut down by Rizzo right before the playoffs for precautionary reasons. The Nats were quickly ousted from the playoffs without Strasburg and it created passionate debate on sports talk shows between purists and new age baseball heads.
With the huge contract they awarded fellow starter Max Scherzer and Harper’s free agency looming, the Nats must have a heck of a guarantee from the doctors that Strasburg is at the very least going to make it through the next two seasons -- which should be legit World Series runs for the Nats -- without having to miss significant time. Therein lies the story of Stephen Strasburg, MLB’s double-edged sword.