- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stephen Strasburg trotting out of the Nationals Park bullpen in home white, stepping to the mound before a sellout crowd and firing one of those triple-digit fastballs to the plate with flashbulbs trailing it the whole way.

That’s the sight Nationals fans have been salivating for since the team took him with the first overall pick June 9.

It officially became a possibility late Monday night when the Nationals signed Strasburg to a four-year, $15.1 million contract. But the dream scenario doesn’t look like it will happen this season.

Acting general manager Mike Rizzo said Tuesday it is “very unlikely” Strasburg will make even a cameo appearance in the major leagues this year.

After Strasburg arrives in the District for an introductory news conference later this week, he’ll head down to the team’s spring training facility in Viera, Fla., to work with roving pitching coordinator Spin Williams and begin a four- or five-week throwing program that the Nationals will use to determine how much the former San Diego State right-hander’s 2 1/2-month layoff from competition has affected his conditioning.

He’ll spend a little time in the team’s instructional league in Florida, then head to the Arizona Fall League. Amid all that, there’s little time for a cursory appearance in a Nationals uniform.

“We expect him to develop at a usual pace, and hopefully when he gets to the big leagues, he’s ready to be here and he’s everything that we think he’s going to be,” Rizzo said.

The Strasburg signing dominated the talk Tuesday at Nationals Park, where Rizzo and the rest of the Nationals’ front office were still living off the adrenaline rush that came from getting the record-breaking deal done shortly before the 12:01 a.m. deadline.

There were moments when talks with Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras, broke down and the Nationals feared they were teetering on the precipice of not getting the pitcher many scouts have called a once-in-a-generation talent.

Boras made his final offer a few minutes before midnight with the pitcher sitting in the room. Rizzo told him the Nationals “couldn’t go to that point,” so he, Boras and team president Stan Kasten rearranged some numbers, inputting Strasburg’s deal into MLB’s system at 11:58 p.m. and 43 seconds.

“I think the player drives these negotiations,” Rizzo said. “He’s such a competitor, he wants to excel and I believe it was too painful for him to hold out any length of time and go back into next year’s draft.”

Most Nationals players, burning off the final few hours of an off-day, weren’t tethered to the television for updates; third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said he didn’t find out until Tuesday morning.

But once players arrived later, there was a palpable energy from the deal in the clubhouse.

“To put out a record amount of money to sign a guy that’s never thrown a pitch [in the majors], I think that shows that ownership and everyone is committed to getting this team better and going in the right direction and winning sooner rather than later,” Zimmerman said.

Said starter John Lannan: “Hopefully, he can come in and help as soon as possible. I mean, next year would be great, too.”

Next year, at least at this point, sounds like the more operative possibility for when Strasburg will bring his hype and his fastball to the District.

“I would think if he were to pitch here [this year], it would be because he’s so fine-tuned, he’s so ready that there would not be a reason not to,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “My guess is we’d be more looking at next year.”

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