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Stephen Strasburg was taken No. 1 overall by the Washington Nationals in the MLB draft. (Lenny Ignelzi/AP File)
Stephen Strasburg was taken No. 1 overall by the Washington Nationals in the MLB draft. (Lenny Ignelzi/AP File)

Strasburg ready to make major leap Add to ...

To borrow a phrase from Stephen Strasburg: "You can look it up on the Internet."

The most highly touted pitching prospect in a decade bid a fitting adieu to the minor leagues Thursday - barring injury rehabilitation assignments - in a ballpark that once had ambitions of being the home of the Montreal Expos.

That was in the early 1990s, when Buffalo minor-league baseball and non-dairy creamer impresarios Bob Rich, Sr., and Jr., spoke to friend Charles Bronfman about buying the Expos and moving the club to what was then called Pilot Field, which would be expanded to accommodate the team.

Strasburg's next start will be in the major leagues on June 8 for the Washington Nationals - formerly the Expos. A little more than a year after signing a $15.1-million four-year contract as the first choice overall in the June, 2009 draft, Strasburg will start against the Pittsburgh Pirates, after rocketing through the Nationals' minor-league system with a 7-2 (1.30) record.

In Thursday's 7-1 win for Strasburg's Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs over the Buffalo Bisons, he struck out five and walked one and gave up three hits in five innings - brooding about a walk given up to the opposing pitcher, Dillon Gee. A crowd of 14,774 was on hand at Coca-Cola Field for the afternoon businessmen's special. Many left as soon as Strasburg didn't come out for the sixth.

"You don't want to walk the pitcher," Strasburg said, when it was suggested his body language was not good at that point of the game. Pressed as to how upset he was, he asked: "You mean on a rating? On a scale."

Strasburg dismissed questions regarding his time in the minors, at one point saying: "Let's just focus on the game here. I've talked about that stuff millions of times, I'm sure you can get it on the Internet somewhere."

Minor-league clubhouses are open, welcoming places, but Strasburg was off limits this season on off-days and all interview requests had to go through the major-league club. He has two security guards, one of whom accompanies him when he signs autographs because of concerns of stalking that surfaced in spring training. Indeed, there was a sense of fatigue when Strasburg noted that being told on Monday this was his last start meant he missed the "total shock and surprise" that usually characterizes a call-up.

"At some point, the same questions, I'm sure, fatigue his mind," said Chiefs manager Trent Jewett. "The inquisitive, trivial stuff, I'm sure, gets old. For him to be able to filter those things at such a young age the way he does is very unusual. Generally guys have three, four, five or six years to figure those things out at the minor-league level.

"He is," Jewett said, "exceptionally prepared. A well-armed young man."

Strasburg came as advertised - although he didn't hit 100 miles an hour on the big left-field radar board as another top prospect, Cuban Aroldis Chapman, did four times in a game here earlier this season. He has a workhorse's body - just angular enough and with a big enough backside and legs to add extra drive without putting extra wear on his arm. Think Roy Halladay with longer arms. His fastball hit 99 with oodles of movement and his 82 mph curve and 79 mph change-up to Mike Hessman, the active minor-league home-run leader, were jaw-dropping.

Asked for his first reaction upon seeing Strasburg, Bisons manager and former major-leaguer Ken Oberkfell laughed and said: "My first thought was: 'Why is he here?' "

 

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