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On Air: The Official Blog of WSJU Sports

Washington Nationals rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg has come out of the gate here in his first year, living up to the astronomical hype that welcomed him. Posting a 2.45 ERA and 53 strikeouts in just 6 starts and 36.2 innings pitched, he has put himself in prime position to win Rookie of the Year if he keeps this pace.

But, below the surface, the Strasburg tale is a cautionary one. Many pitchers before him have gotten off to fantastic starts in their career, only to find struggles and/or injury down the road.

In the last decade or so, a few names come to mind. Kerry Wood, after winning the Rookie of the Year with the Cubs in 1998, has never lived up to the multiple-Cy-Young hype that surrounded him early in his career. Despite his resurgence the past few years as a solid closer for the Cubs and Indians, many still wonder what he could have been, had a series of elbow and arm problems limited his growth and success at the Major League level.

In a second stroke of bad luck in the Cubs organization,the early 2000s brought the rise and fall of young Mark Prior. After winning 18 games and finishing the season with a 2.43 ERA in 2003, injuries cut his career short at age 25.

Unfortunately, there are many similarities between Prior and Strasburg, many of which are hard to ignore. Both armed with fastballs near 100mph and killer breaking pitches, they used their repitoire to strike out a lot of batters. In Prior’s break-out season of 2003, he struck out 245 batters in 211.1 innings. Right now, if Strasburg throws that many innings, he’d end up with over 300 K’s, but expect the Nationals to take their time with the coveted arm of this flame-throwing 21 year old.

So what is to be learned? A combination of things, some of which have become cliched in the past few years.

Firstly, save his arm.

There is a correct and an incorrect way to go about that, though. What the Yankees have attempted to do with Joba Chamberlain has turned out to be a disaster. Stretching out and shortening his arm has done nothing but put him back in the bullpen where he probably should have been all along.

Thus far, it seems the Nationals have it right. In six starts, Strasburg has thrown just over 36 innings, or 6 innings per start. That is smart on their part because, at 21 years old, it is a long career that lies in front of him and, in a crowded NL East, it doesn’t seem the Nats are going anywhere this season.

The second aspect to look at is the hype and exposure he’s endured so far and will in the future. Every one of his first six starts has been nationally televised, he has been on Letterman, and he is a constant talking point on television and radio broadcasts across the country. To me, he seems seasoned enough with the media and being a star at every level to handle it, but he is only six starts into what is hopefully a long career for him.

Until we can tell for sure what exactly will come of him, enjoy his fastball, if you can see it, and his curve, if you can follow it.

-Dan Martin

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