- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2010

In the past few years, the planned Florida community of Viera has been a quiet northern outpost for the Grapefruit League, with the glamour teams and bigger names making their spring homes over on the Gulf Coast or down Interstate 95.

Not so this year.

With Stephen Strasburg, last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick, in Nationals camp for the first time, there’s a buzz surrounding the team that’s been absent since the team’s arrival from Montreal in 2005 - despite the fact Washington is still coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons.

According to MLB.com, over 150 fans showed up just to see Strasburg work out once pitchers and catchers reported to Nationals camp last month, and now fans in Viera will get a chance to see the pitcher take on the Tigers on Tuesday in a game that was added to the local broadcast schedule once Strasburg was announced as one of the hurlers in the contest.

Described by Baseball America as a “once-in-a-generation talent,” there’s a lot of pressure on the 21-year-old’s shoulders to emerge as the ace of the Washington staff — and give the team that has struggled for an identity since arriving to Washington and give the team a true superstar.

Longtime major-league manager Davey Johnson, who saw Strasburg play as the only college player on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, couldn’t say enough good stuff about the young San Diego State product.

“I told [Nationals manager Jim Riggleman] not to get a good look at him here, he’ll love him, he’ll want to take him north for Opening Day,” Johnson told ESPN last month. “With pitchers, you look for stuff, the ability to throw strikes and poise. He has them all. On the Olympic team, I just tried not to screw it up. I started him against the Dutch team. He had a no-hitter after six innings. I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ Luckily, he gave up a hit in the seventh, and I got him out of there.”

Los Angeles Angels scouting director Eddie Bane - who jumped right from college to the majors — also wasn’t shy about touting Strasburg’s potential.

“Stephen Strasburg is the best amateur pitcher I have ever seen,” Bane told MLB.com. “Period. No question.”

Newly-acquired veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who has caught some of Strasburg’s offerings behind the plate, also spoke highly of his arsenal of pitches.

“He has tremendous stuff,” Rodriguez told MLB.com. “He has a good fastball, curveball and changeup. He has a lot of talent. He needs to continue to work and be in the big league [exhibition] games. His future is there. He is tremendous.”

Even at a relatively young age, Strasburg has a fastball that regularly clocks in the upper 90s - although the Nats have clocked him at 102 MPH - not to mention a breaking ball that can be equally as devastating to opposing batters.

For all the pressure, the Nats are preaching patience for their top prospect, with Strasburg likely going to be sent down to the minor-league camp before likely either starting the season in Single-A Potomac or Double-A Harrisburg, with a callup coming sometime in the summer if he thrives against minor-leaguers.

Unlike the last few years where the Nationals have been paper-thin with their starting pitching, with free-agent signing Jason Marquis joining John Lannan, J.D. Martin, Garrett Mock, Craig Stammen and the oft-injured Scott Olsen this year, Washington has a chance to put together a decent five-man rotation. This will allow the Nationals to have some patience with the pitcher who earned a record-setting $15.1 million deal at the signing deadline last August.

“I think its going to come down to a philosophical decision more so than a performance decision,” Riggleman told the New York Times Tuesday. “We anticipate that he is going to throw great.”

So as hope springs eternal as the Nationals get their Grapefruit League schedule going Thursday with split-squad games against Florida and Houston, Washington hopes the big new name in camp can eventually help bring the team out of the league’s basement and into contention in the NL East.



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