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Nats phenom Stephen Strasburg has nothing left to prove in minors

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- There really isn't much to add to the Stephen Strasburg hype orchestra. He's obviously too good to be pitching in Triple A. Working for the Syracuse Chiefs against the Rochester Red Wings on Wednesday night, he threw 6 1/3 more scoreless innings (that's 18 1/3 scoreless at Syracuse). He allowed three hits -- only one of which was well hit -- and he struck out nine, and he hit 100 on the radar gun, though it was his wiffleball change-up that left the sellout crowd in Rochester gasping.

Yeah. There's nothing much to add. He's too good for this level. He might be too good for the next level too, but we won't begin to know that until June 4, when he should make his big league debut for the Nationals at home against Cincinnati. That figures to be the closest thing to a playoff baseball atmosphere they have felt in Washington since the Senators of Heinie Manush lost to the Giants in the '33 World Series.

Strasburg almost certainly won't pitch in the big leagues until June 4 because the Nationals, understandably, don't want him to be eligible for arbitration in two years. And they wouldn't mind him pitching twice on that early June home stand. Of course, that's not what the Nationals say -- they might not even be allowed to say that. Instead, they will say that he still has a few things he could work on. Perhaps his walk to and from the dugout could use a little tightening up. He could improve on the tilt of his baseball cap. Something. Anything. He won't pitch until June 4.

Until then, Strasburg will destroy Triple-A hitters. He will inspire absurd expectations, and he will inspire "Let's wait and see what he does against the big boys" doubts. He will inspire people like Curt Schilling to say, "I've never seen anything like him." He will inspire doubters to tweet, "Big deal! Let's see him do it in The Show!"

And it goes on. There's nothing else he can do while pitching for the Syracuse Chiefs. On Wednesday, he struck out former major leaguer Jacque Jones on a curveball that was so sick it needed to be hospitalized for three days after the game. But, yes, it was former major leaguer Jacque Jones.

Later, he threw a sweeping curveball to Rochester's Trevor Plouffe that, no kidding, must have broken four feet outside. Plouffe was so lost in the moment, so worried about the 100 mph fastball, that he swung anyway, like he was hypnotized. Remarkable. But, yes, Trevor Plouffe, is just 24 and trying to figure things out himself.

Two errors were made behind Strasburg -- he forced double play grounders out of the next batter both times. He struck out six of the last eight batters he faced, sometimes with a high-90s fastball, sometimes with that absurd change-up that, like an annoying driver, disappears into the hitter's blind spot, and once with a curveball that was appeared to stop, drop and roll about four feet from home plate. Inconceivable -- and, yes, I do know what that word means. But, yes, all this was against the Rochester Red Wings.

"What did you think about the standing ovation you got after the game?" he was asked, because when he came out in the seventh inning the Rochester fans stood and applauded him, though he was the visiting pitcher.

"I haven't proven anything yet," he said.

But this is the point -- he can't prove anything more. Not here. So all he can do is wow the people in Upstate New York until he gets the call. And he does that. When the game ended, everyone talked about some Strasburg quality that made them gasp. Rochester manager Tom Nieto was amazed by Strasburg's competitive nature -- he came after hitters. Former Baltimore manager Joe Altobelli was taken by Strasburg's power stuff -- he reminded Altobelli of the old-time pitchers. Glen Perkins, who won 12 games in the big leagues in 2008 and is trying to work his way back, was taken by how quietly he did his job -- it never FELT like Strasburg was pitching an electrifying game. It just felt normal.

If anything, Strasburg was a little bit off Wednesday night. He was not commanding his 97-100 mph fastball the way he normally does. He got behind 2-0 to more hitters than normal. He more than made up for this with his secondary pitches -- his left-breaking curveball and right-breaking changeup. Those were the pitches that left me in awe. They are all out pitches. Any one of those pitches would be good enough to make a pitcher a big prospect.

There have been pitchers who have come up to the big leagues with a high-90s fastball. There have been young pitchers with great secondary pitches. And there have been young pitchers with command beyond their years.

But I wonder if there has ever been pitcher who had all three at such a young age. The thing about big league hitters is that they are ridiculously good. They find ways to score runs on even the greatest pitchers. Not a lot of runs, perhaps. But no pitcher goes through life with an 0.00 ERA. Neftali Feliz throws 101 mph, but they score runs off him. Roy Halladay has a fastball, a cutter, a curveball and a change -- all great pitches -- but they score runs off him. Tim Lincecum throws a 98-mph fastball and what hitters unhappily call the Bugs Bunny change-up -- and they score runs off him too. They scored off Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller and Tom Seaver. They scored off of Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux. They scored runs off of Nolan Ryan who had the nastiest stuff of all.

Thing is: When Stephen Strasburg is throwing 100 mph for strikes and mixing in those two pitches, honestly, I have absolutely no idea how they are going to score runs off him.

But that's left to the imagination for now. Wednesday, it was clear, Rochester was not going to score runs off him. More than 12,500 people squeezed into a stadium that officially seats about 1,700 fewer people. They were sitting in the grass. Stephen Strasburg T-shirts sold for $19.99 -- about five dollars more than the T-shirts of Rochester hero Cal Ripken. It was a special night ... one of those nights that had that feel of history. You got the feeling that a lot of people hope to one day say: "Yeah, I saw Stephen Strasburg before, right here in Rochester."

You never know how that sort of thing will turn out, of course. The last time there was this much hype over a pitcher in Rochester, it was a sellout crowd turning out to see former Yankees phenom Hideki Irabu. And, yeah, that didn't turn out too well.

"We heard a lot about (Strasburg)," Rochester catcher Jose Morales said. "And he more than lived up to it." Well, it's true. This is one of those cases where the hype -- silly as it may be -- does not overstate the talent. The Rochester hitters have seen Cincinnati mega-prospect Aroldis Chapman a couple of times this year -- they faced him just a few days ago, in fact. And, hitter after hitter, pitcher after pitcher, they say there is no comparison. Chapman is a talented 22-year-old pitcher who still has a lot to learn.

And Strasburg?

"He's a horse," Nieto says, and you get the sense he doesn't have a higher compliment to offer a young pitcher. Well, there are no higher compliments left. Is Stephen Strasburg the real thing? Can't say that yet. But you can say, without hesitation, that they can't hit him in Rochester.

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