- The Washington Times - Friday, August 21, 2009

Let’s hear it for the sad sack Nationals, at least off the field. Considering the $15 million or so they spent this week to sign Stephen Strasburg, you would think the Nats’ ticket prices would go up. Instead they’re offering seats in selected sections at $1 for Friday’s game against the Brewers.

Talk about bargains!

Or maybe not. After all, (un)lucky fans in the designated areas will be watching a team with the major leagues’ worst record.

I could be cynical and suggest that $1 is about all the Nats are worth. Come to think of it, maybe I will.

As one who is mathematically challenged, I’ll leave it to the figure filberts to tell you how many $1 tickets they would have to sell to recoup $15 million.

(Uh, 15,000,000, maybe?)

What’s more, fans who care to arrive five hours before game time will be allowed to attend Strasburg’s on-field press conference. The sight and sound of him hurling cliches, assuming he does, won’t be quite as intriguing as watching him hurl baseballs:

“I’m just glad to be here, and I hope I can help the team [eventually]. … The Nationals have many great players, and I just want to contribute. … I’m grateful to Mr. Lerner and Mr. Kasten for just giving me this opportunity.”

Or maybe Strasburg will eschew modesty and say something like this: “Thanks to Mr. Boras, I’m now richer than any 10 other people here.”

Actually, Strasburg’s signing - thank you, Scott Boras, for not demanding the entire world - might be the second-most important piece of news out of Nationals Park this week. Perhaps a more significant item was the removal of the aggravating word “interim” from general manager Mike Rizzo’s title.

Rizzo doesn’t throw fastballs at 105, 110 or 115 mph and hasn’t been labeled the biggest baseball phenom since Clint Hartung (and if you don’t know who he is, ask your grandparents). But a strong front office is even more vital to a club’s success than strength up the middle of the diamond, and Rizzo appears to be a solid customer who won’t make trades for the sake of making trades, as predecessor Jim Bowden often seemed to do.

His first major deal, the one that brought multitalented center fielder Nyjer Morgan and reliever Sean Burnett from the cooperative Pirates, was a dandy. Mike’s landing of Strasburg likely clinched the permanent job for him.

Dealing with Boras isn’t exactly a hike through the heather, but Rizzo brought it off beautifully. And since the deed was done at 11:58.43, Mike didn’t even have to sweat out the final minute before the deadline.

It’s up to Rizzo, presumably with an assist from club president Stan Kasten, to determine whether manager Jim Riggleman - now the Nats’ only interim guy - returns next season. My guess is that he will, barring a complete collapse the rest of the way. The team has shown substantial improvement during Riggleman’s five weeks on the job, not a bad accomplishment for a club with a modestly talented overall roster.

And it’s right and proper that Rizzo has deemed it “very unlikely” Strasburg will make his major league debut this season. What would be the point, except to draw a sellout audience?

One of the worst things you can do with young pitchers is to rush them along. The Nats already have some hot prospects - Collin Balester, Craig Stammen, Ross Detwiler, Garrett Mock et al - who have been battered like fishes out of water while trying to pitch in the bigs. Why subject prize catch Strasburg to the same sort of early indignity?

At any rate, his impending presence gives us some hope that tomorrow will be much brighter for the Nats. Meanwhile, you can catch their current edition for a measly buck Friday night and see just how far they have to go.

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