- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2013


Earning the No. 1 pick in the draft is not something a team should aspire to, because you have to be pretty bad to get it. Fortunately for most teams, it is a rarity.

It also isn’t a sure thing.

The Redskins haven’t gone first since 1962. The Wizards have gone first twice since 2001. They got Kwame Brown and John Wall. One whiff, one apparent hit. The Caps have gone first three times in their history and they got Greg Joly, Rick Green and Alex Ovechkin. Whiff, good hit, great hit.

The Nationals went back to back at the top in 2009 and 2010. They took Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. We’re going to go out on a real limb here and make a major declaration: outstanding hit and outstanding hit.

Washington opened its 2013 season Monday at Nationals Park with a 2-0 victory over the Miami Marlins. No offense to all the others who took part. The day was about The Top Pick Twins and all about The Top Pick Twins.

SEE ALSO: FENNO: Clint Romesha’s quiet Opening Day tribute a reminder of true heroism

Strasburg went seven efficient innings (and probably should have gone one more). The Nats‘ two runs were courtesy of Harper home runs, in his first and second at-bats.

They showed the impressive gifts that made them easy choices as the top pick in their drafts. More important, they showed a level of maturity that belies their relative inexperience.

“What we saw today was Harper taking good, disciplined at-bats and a couple of home runs were the result,” Nats shortstop Ian Desmond said. “What we saw was Strasburg being very disciplined on the mound, pitching to contact, throwing strikes. What we saw was seven innings, 85 pitches [actually 80], a great job.

“I think,” Desmond continued, “they’re both just scratching the surface. I think they have a lot more epic things in them, I’d guess you’d say.”

Harper is only 20. He’s the reigning National League Rookie of the Year and he put up numbers in spring training that appear made up. He hit .478. Every time he comes up, every single time, fans will keep their eyes glued. No telling how far it will go, how hard it will be hit. Make your projections for him as absurd as you’d like. He’s likely to deliver.

Yes, he’s that good.

“The kid’s locked in,” said Ricky Nolasco, who pitched pretty well himself Monday for the Marlins. “After the spring he’s had, he’s seeing the ball really well and he’s not missing those mistakes. I didn’t make plus pitches to him and he didn’t miss them. That’s what good hitters do.”

What good pitchers do is learn, even when they have dominating stuff like Strasburg. The 24-year-old set a very high bar when he debuted in June of 2010, striking out 14 Pirates in a 5-2 victory.

As dazzling as that game was, what he did to the Marlins may have been more impressive. Juan Pierre led off with a base hit. Strasburg retired the next 19 hitters. He only struck out three. He didn’t try to overpower the Marlins. He used his expansive repertoire to keep them off balance.

“As you get older, not that he’s old by any means, you become a little less scared of contact,” Nats pitcher Dan Haren said. “With the stuff he has, he should be attacking hitters from the get-go, keeping the hitters on their heels and that’s what he did today. When that happens, you get into a real groove, things are moving fast. Strikeouts will come. The fact that he kept a low pitch count, gets through seven innings, really shows maturity.

“The fans probably would prefer the 14 strikeouts. Everyone in here would prefer what he did today.”

One quibble you can make is why he wasn’t given a chance to pitch the eighth. He did give up two of his hits in the seventh and was helped by an odd outfield-initiated double play. But he didn’t look like he was close to being tired.

This is the year of no limits, after last year’s circus sideshow of an innings limit following his 2010 Tommy John surgery. The idea that the Nats are going to take the kid gloves off him would have received a symbolic lift by letting him pitch another inning, but manager Davey Johnson doesn’t think that way.

“I’m not pushing the envelope. Never have, never will,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think he was tired, even at the end of the game. But again, first time out, Opening Day, gave me seven solid innings.”

Exceptionally solid. Exceptionally efficient. Exceptionally mature.

It’s a long season. Harper will have slumps. Strasburg will make mistakes. When it is all added up, the numbers are going to be pretty impressive.

The Nats lost 205 games in 2008 and 2009 to get in position to select those two. It could be awhile before they pick first again.

“They had great timing to get two of the premier guys in the draft,” the Marlins’ Nolasco said. “Those guys are going to be around for a long time.”

Said Haren, “These guys never cease to amaze me. These guys are the real deal.”



Click to Read More

Click to Hide