Big Steve

WhenWashingtonpitcher Stephen Strasburg is right, he can generate so much power with his four-seam fastball that it can reach speeds of 98 miles per hour.

Now imagine being in the batter’s box. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get a base hit. But more likely you’ll tap weakly to an infielder, or strikeout, which has happened 151 times this season, placing Strasburg first in the Senior Circuit.

Strasburg’s emergence has also pushedWashingtoninto first place in the National League East, four games in front of the Atlanta Braves.

Four times this year, Strasburg, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009 after playing atSan DiegoStateunder the watchful eye of Manager Tony Gwynn, has fanned 10 batters or more, with a best of 13 twice. What’s remarkable is that Strasburg hasn’t gone more than seven innings.

His best outing may have been last Wednesday atNew Yorkwhen he struck out 11 Mets, and didn’t walk a batter.

In the 5-2 victory, Strasburg, who has issued only 32 walks, gave up four hits and one run (earned) over seven frames.

Strasburg just turned 24 years old, and has a record of 11-4 with a 2.76 earned-run average.

Strasburg has also been the most-watched hurler to come along in decades, and that includes hard-throwers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, both high draft picks.

In each case, they didn’t reach most people’s expectations. Wood’s career was better only because he played 14 seasons, while Prior lasted five due to arm problems.

And with their stories comes the thinking it may be better to use Strasburg with caution.

So far, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Strasburg has toiled 117 and one-third innings, and Manager Davey Johnson said he’ll shut him down at about 175 innings.

Some have questioned if this is smart given the Nationals may be in a pennant race.

One who doesn’t is Nolan Ryan. The all-time strikeout king, holder of a record seven no-hitters, and owner of the Texas Rangers, said it’s smart not to “baby” a pitcher. He believes they should throw as many innings as possible.

There are some coaches and scouts who counter Ryan’s thinking. They argue Strasburg’s mechanics put a significant strain on his arm, which places him at greater risk of elbow and shoulder injuries.

When Strasburg made his big-league debut on June 8, 2010 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the media came out in droves.

A Sports Illustrated columnist said it was “the most hyped pitching debut the game has ever seen,” while ESPN said Strasburg is “the most hyped pick in draft history.”

In that win, theSan Diegonative whiffed a Nationals-record 14, walking none and allowing two earned runs in seven innings.

That season, Strasburg finished 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA, 68 strikeouts and 17 walks, but 2011 was cut short after a 1-1 mark when he landed on the disabled list with an inflamed right shoulder.

A month before the season ended, Strasburg underwent Tommy John surgery, and was expected to be out between 12 and 18 months.

To date, he’s made a brilliant recovery, and that’s really good news.

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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