- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2012

SAN DIEGO — Stephen Strasburg used to watch baseball games here. A few hundred feet from where he sat Tuesday, at least six television cameras and microphones jammed in his face, he marveled at the talents of Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman and Jake Peavy.

Unbothered by media and without the celebrity that has come with his immensely talented right arm, Strasburg and his father, Jim, used to peer over the edge of the wall in left field at Petco Park and watch the pitchers get to work.

“I remember watching Trevor warm up from right there,” Strasburg said, glancing out toward the left-field stands. “You can see into the bullpen from there. Watching Trevor, Peavey, [Scott] Linebrink was there. It was cool. It’s a good area to watch the game.”

The touches of home are everywhere for Strasburg this road trip. He spent Monday’s team off day “driving all over San Diego County seeing family.” He’s spent four nights sleeping at home, in his own bed. He’s greeted friends and family on the field each day as the Nationals have taken the first two of this three-game series from his hometown team and shared knowledge about cavernous Petco with his teammates.

The only thing he won’t do here, of course, is pitch.

“Just not the way the rotation fell this year,” Strasburg said. “I know it’s only a matter of time before I’ll get that opportunity.”

Strasburg has pitched here twice, his San Diego State University team earning the honor during his college days. The Nationals‘ rotation didn’t line up for him to do so this year, but he’ll pitch as a professional for the first time on California soil Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

At least 50 friends and family members will make the roughly two-hour trip. And while the occasion will be special for them, for Strasburg it won’t carry nearly the same cache as if it were inside Petco.

“I’m a San Diego kid,” he said. “It’d be way different if I was pitching here. But L.A.’s just another park.”

It’s a disappointment Strasburg can find plenty of sympathy for inside his own clubhouse. None of the Nationals‘ five starters has pitched in his “hometown” stadium.

Jordan Zimmermann’s just missed each time the Nationals have been to Milwaukee, Ross Detwiler has yet to stand on the mound inside Busch Stadium as a pro. Gio Gonzalez, Hialeah, Fla.’s own, has never pitched as a major leaguer in Miami and even Edwin Jackson, the most veteran and well-traveled of the group, hasn’t pitched in Atlanta, the closest major league stadium to his high school home in Columbus, Ga.

“I know that feeling,” Gonzalez said. “Strasburg wanted to pitch here. That’s the best. It’s an honor, it’s a privilege to come out here and pitch in your own town, your own city. I hope he gets that opportunity.”

For now he’ll have to settle for his first career start at Dodger Stadium, missing the headline Strasburg vs. Clayton Kershaw matchup by one day, and instead facing Dodgers’ righty Chad Billingsley.

“I kind of knew early on that [I wasn’t going to pitch in San Diego],” he said. “But I know it’s only a matter of time before I get that opportunity.”

Notes:The Nationals‘ 14-4 start ranked as the best start in franchise history. The only other Washington team to win 14 of its first 18 games was the 1932 Senators … The Nationals‘ starting pitchers set a team record (2005-present) for consecutive scoreless innings Wednesday when they reached 26. That broke the mark of 24, set by John Patterson, Hector Carrasco, Esteban Loaiza and Livan Hernandez from Sept. 16-20, 2005. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the franchise record (Expos/Nationals) is 39 innings, set in 1981.