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Further Review | Sports

Debate Strasburg, just don’t forget to enjoy the show

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Some people hate the Strasburg Strikeout Watch. You know, the omnipresent charting of where the Nationals phenom’s K count ranks with other young flame-throwers in baseball history.

I didn’t care about it, until a closer look before yesterday’s Strasburg start against the Mets.

Maybe you expected something like Clemens, Ryan, Johnson (Walter and/or Randy) and Koufax. But Herb Score was atop the list for most punchouts in his first five outings with 50. Second was Strasburg with 48, followed by Kerry Wood (45), Mark Prior and Jose DeLeon (both 43).

Score came up in 1955 to the already pitching-rich Indians, and appeared on his way toward a tremendous career. But in 1957 a line drive by the Yankees Gil McDougald broke several bones in his face. Score never regained his form and hung on until 1962, finishing with a record of 55-46 and 837 strikeouts.

If Wood and Prior had lived up to early promise, the Cubs could have dominated the past decade. In 2003, they combined for 32 wins and 511 strikeouts and Chicago won the NL Central.

That’s two more victories than the duo combined for from 2004 through 2006, to go with 32 losses as injuries and control problems mounted. Prior hasn’t pitched in the majors since, and Wood is a mediocre closer with the Indians.

Some of us in Hawaii saw DeLeon pitch, with the Islanders in 1983. I was at Aloha Stadium a lot that summer, and recall watching him warm up for a start. It was the first time I heard pitches sizzle. Although DeLeon possessed amazing control (or, maybe because of that fact), I begged off when he laughingly suggested I stand in with a bat.

DeLeon was called up at midseason and went 7-3 with a 2.83 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 108 innings as a Pittsburgh rookie. He pitched 13 big-league seasons for five teams. Despite his talent and longevity, DeLeon is remembered by most (when he is at all) for losing 19 games in a season … twice — 2-19 with the Pirates in 1985 and 7-19 with the Cardinals in 1990.

DOES ANY of this matter when it comes to Stephen Strasburg and the here and now? Maybe. Yesterday’s no-decision in Washington’s stirring 6-5 comeback was his fourth start without a Strasburg W after he earned wins in his debut and second game. He fanned five in five innings yesterday, yielding two runs on four hits.

We won’t know for a long time if Strasburg is headed for the Hall of Fame or a Prior-like flameout. Hey, if the Nats don’t improve quickly, Strasburg could even be doomed to some 19-loss seasons.

So far, his stuff and composure have nearly matched the hype, and Washington is doing the right thing by bringing him along slowly.

THE DEBATE continues whether a rookie with just a handful of major league innings should be in the July 13 All-Star game. If it does happen, he can thank Ivan Rodriguez — for reasons easily apparent and at least one not-so obvious.

Who better than a veteran Hall of Fame-bound catcher to bring along such a talent? And Rodriguez got Strasburg off the hook for a third loss with a game-tying single in the sixth, before his game-winner in the ninth. It would be hard to justify putting a starting pitcher with a losing record on an All-Star team.

Many midsummer classics are in Stephen Strasburg’s future — unless he somehow ends up like the other pitchers who racked up Ks in record fashion their first month in the show.

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.

 

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