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Strasburg winning while he learns

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Strasburg winning while he learns

MIAMI -- It's easy to watch Stephen Strasburg mow through opposing lineups and forget how young and inexperienced he still is.

Sunday's start in Miami was only the 35th of Strasburg's big-league career, the equivalent of one full season. He's been through so much and has so much talent, you tend to think he's as polished as they get.

But there is still much for Strasburg to learn, another level for him to reach.

"What is he, 23 years old?," Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "He's got six weeks in the minor leagues. This is an awful tough level to learn at. He's got tremendous ability, and he's still putting up some pretty good numbers. But he's going to have his moments and his games where we might see things that he doesn't necessarily see. That's why I always say it's a learning process. He's got to see it himself."

During the course of Sunday's 4-0 victory over the Marlins, McCatty and Nationals manager Davey Johnson believe they saw Strasburg take a step forward, learning a key lesson they've been pounding in his head for months: Don't be afraid to trust your fastball above all other pitches.

Strasburg, who possesses perhaps the most devastating offspeed pitches of his generation, also is blessed with a fastball that approaches triple digits. And when he uses it and locates it the way he did Sunday while tossing six scoreless innings, the end result leaves everybody pleased.

"I have to say, that was one of the more impressive games that Stras has pitched," Johnson said. "I thought he used his fastball better. I thought his location was a little better. He spiked a few changeups. He got in some jams that he had to work out of. That's the kind of Strasburg that I know and love."

Right down to the part where the young hurler drove in another key run at the plate.

Perhaps Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was too busy trying to mess with Bryce Harper's head to remember that Strasburg has developed into the best-hitting pitcher in the majors. Whatever the reason, Guillen inexplicably decided to intentionally walk rookie backup catcher Jhonatan Solano with two outs in the fifth, bringing Strasburg to the plate with a man in scoring position.

And as has been case on several previous occasions, Strasburg delivered, sending a sharp single to right field to bring home the Nationals' first run of the day. He's now hitting .385 (10-for-26) with a .448 on-base percentage and .654 slugging percentage.

"I mean, there's no expectations, so that's the easy part," said Strasburg, who also drew a walk in his first plate appearance. "You just have to go up there and make him work, and if he makes a mistake, just do your best to put the fat part of the bat on the ball."

The Marlins didn't put the fat part of the bat on Strasburg's pitches very often during this game. Though they compiled six hits off the right-hander, all but one were singles, and few were well-struck.

He did face several jams because of it, but he rose to the occasion each time to keep the runner from scoring. He struck out John Buck with two on in the second. He struck out Logan Morrison with the bases loaded and one out in the third, then got some help from Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche on Hanley Ramirez's sharp grounder to third moments later. And he struck out Ramirez with runners on second and third and two outs in the fifth, ultimately keeping Miami to one hit in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

"I went into the game and I wanted to really get back to the things that make me successful," he said. "We played great defense today and they got a couple hits, but I was able to make pitches when they counted."

The key for Strasburg was a return to his roots, his fastball, which he threw 70 times on Sunday as opposed to only 18 changeups and 17 curveballs.

"The thing about Stephen is, his offspeed is so good that it's easy to fall back on that," McCatty said. "But his fastball still is an outstanding pitch, so we just talked about it. We've been talking about it and talking about it and talking about it. Get back to using it."

By day's end, Strasburg had lowered his ERA to 2.66 while improving his record to 10-4. In 35 career starts, he's now 16-8 with a 2.60 ERA and 251 strikeouts to only 49 walks in 197 innings.

He's now an All-Star, the ace of the best pitching staff in baseball. Yet the Nationals don't believe he's realized his full potential yet.

"He's still learning at this level," McCatty said. "He's got a long way to go. It's not a finished product by any means. But it's still an awful good one."

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Why Bryce Harper would be a bargain at $500 million

Why Bryce Harper would be a bargain at $500 million

$500 million.

That number is so hard to wrap your brain around, but it's a number a lot of professional baseball players may soon start seeing on their contracts.

One player who could be the first to see that amount within the next year is Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper.

Harper will become a free agent in 2018 and people are already projecting his market value at close to $500 million, if not more.

Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton signed a contract back in 2014 for 13 years, $325 million, holding the league record.

For Fancy Stats writer Neil Greenberg, $500 million is a bargain for someone of Harper's caliber.

"Harper is every bit as good [as Stanton] but he's also young," Greenberg told the Sports Junkies Friday.

"I mean, we don't see a player that's as good as Harper, that's as young a Harper, hit the market almost ever I want to say. You look at how many years of his prime he has left and then even if you start to give him just the typical aging curb off of that prime, he's probably worth close to 570 million dollars starting from 2019 and going forward ten years. And that includes also the price of free agency going up and other factors."

Harper, who is only 25 years-old, brings more to a team than just talent. He's one of the most recognizable figures in baseball, bringing tremendous marketing opportunities to an organization. Greenberg dove deeper into how that will increase his market value.

"And that's just for the on-the-field product. You talk about all the marketing that's done around Bryce Harper [and] what he does for the game. In my opinion, and based on the numbers that I saw, he's a bargain at $500 million."

Don't we all wish someone would say $500 million is a bargain for us?

After crunching the numbers, the biggest takeaway for Greenberg is the return on investment the Nationals have gotten out of Harper.

"Like if you look at his wins above replacement throughout his career, he's given you 200 million dollars in value for 21 million dollars in cash and he's due what another 26 or 27 million this year. I mean he's already given you an amazing return on investment."

"So, if you're the Nationals having - benefited from that - you know you have a little bit of, I guess, wiggle room in terms of maybe you're paying a little bit for past performance 'cause, you know, when a player is on arbitration in their early years they don't really get paid that much."

The Nationals still have Harper for one more season and many feel they need to make him an offer sooner than later. Whenever and whoever he gets an offer from, it's going to be a nice pay day for him.

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Nats' Max Scherzer wins second straight NL Cy Young Award

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Nats' Max Scherzer wins second straight NL Cy Young Award

Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals has coasted to his third Cy Young Award and second straight in the National League.

Scherzer breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

The honor was announced Wednesday on MLB Network.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit. He became the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs.

RELATED: WIETERS WILL RETURN TO NATS IN 2018 

Scherzer was 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA and a league-leading 268 strikeouts for the NL East champion Nationals.

Kershaw has already won three NL Cy Youngs, and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts.

Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians easily won his second AL Cy Young Award earlier in the day. He got 28 of the 30 first-place votes, with Boston's Chris Sale second and Luis Severino of the New York Yankees third.

Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball.