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Despite dazzling debut, Stephen Strasburg is not an All-Star

There is no doubt that Nationals rookie starter Stephen Strasburg is a once-in-a-generation talent. There's no doubt that, should he stay healthy, he's bound for a great career.

And there should be no doubt that he does not belong in this year's All-Star Game.

When Strasburg toes the rubber in Atlanta's Turner Field tonight, he will be making his fifth start. He's undoubtedly been a force over the course of his first four outings, going 2-1 with a 1.78 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings. But increasing talk about him belonging in the All-Star Game is the idle chatter surrounding a club that has fallen out of contention.

Strasburg simply hasn't -- and won't have -- pitched enough to merit inclusion at the Midsummer Classic.

RELATED:Why Strasburg should make the All-Star Game.

A baseball season is 26 weeks long, and just more than half, 14, are played before the All-Star Game. By the time this year's contest is played on July 13 in Angels Stadium, Strasburg will have been on a major-league roster for exactly five weeks -- in other words, barely a third of the season to date.

This is no slight to the young phenom who will likely earn a spot in the Midsummer Classic for many years to come, but 2010 is not his time. Strasburg will have made only seven starts by the time of the All-Star Game and only six by the time rosters are announced on July 4.

The closest precedent cited by Strasburg-as-All-Star supporters isn't even that close. Dontrelle Willis was named to the 2003 NL All-Star team as a rookie after only making his major-league debut on May 9. But Willis was 8-1 with a 1.98 over 12 starts at the time of the roster announcement, almost double the number of outings that Strasburg will have made. Even then, Willis was added as an injury replacement, not at as an original member.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the fewest appearances by a pitcher who reached that year's All-Star Game was nine by Cincinnati's Ewell Blackwell, who was 1-1 with a 4.55 ERA in two starts and seven relief appearances before the 1949 break. He may have made the team based on name recognition and past success more than anything else. Blackwell was two years removed from the 1947 season in which he was runner-up for the NL MVP while going 22-8 with a 2.47 ERA.

Otherwise, except for in the strike-shortened 1981 season, only five pitchers have been All-Stars with even as few as 11 appearances, and only one of them, the Red Sox' Don Schwall in 1961, was a rookie.

Consider how small a sample size four starts is. Mets knuckleballer, R. A. Dickey, for instance, is in the midst of a four-start stretch in which he's 4-0 with a 1.98 ERA in 27 1/3 innings, yet no one's clamoring for him to be an All-Star. Sure, he barely has half as many strikeouts (23) as Strasburg and uses a nontraditional pitch rather than the eye-popping 100-mile-per-hour heater Strasburg has, but the results speak for themselves. At 6-0 with a 2.33 ERA in seven starts this season, Dickey's overall body of work surpasses that of the young Nationals hurler.

Strasburg's case for consideration would be bolstered if Washington didn't have any other deserving players. This isn't, say, the 2008 Nationals when shortstop Cristian Guzman -- whose numbers at the break were a modest .313 batting average, .340 on-base percentage, five home runs and 30 RBIs -- was named an All-Star simply because of the Major League Baseball rule requiring a representative from each team.

But the Nationals are not lacking for All-Star caliber players, featuring a no doubter in third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (.290 average, .384 OBP, 13 HRs, 37 RBIs and a 6.3 Ultimate Zone Rating, best in the majors at his position) and another likely honoree, closer Matt Capps (0-3, 3.48 ERA, majors-leading 22 saves), not to mention a pair of fringe candidates, first baseman Adam Dunn (.276 BA, .368 OBP, 17 HRs, 47 RBIs), left fielder Josh Willingham (.276 BA, .405 OBP, 13 HRs, 42 RBIs).

The longstanding debate surrounding the All-Star Game is whether players should be selected based entirely on their merits that season (i.e. production in the year's first half) or because they are truly the stars fans most want to see. The latter is why legends like Cal Ripken Jr. and Ozzie Smith were voted by the fans to start All-Star Games even when their careers were on the decline.

But pitchers aren't voted in by the fans. The decision of whether Strasburg is an All-Star or not will likely rest in the hands of the players, who will vote in five starters, and Charlie Manuel, the Phillies and National League manager who can selects nine additional players, of whom probably two or three will be starters.

"I've been keeping up with him," Manuel said to reporters a week ago. "He has to earn it, so we will wait and see."

There is no shortage of good starters who have earned it in this rejuvenated year of the pitcher. Fourteen starters have an ERA under 3.00 while making at least 14 starts.

Major League Baseball implemented a new rule this year in which starters who pitch on Sunday can be honored as All-Star selections but are ineligible to pitch and will be replaced on the active roster. This rule expands the number of starters who will be selected, but there is an ample supply of candidates who have been performing all seas5on.

One other scenario is that the league could include Strasburg on the five-man ballot for the 34th and final All-Star spot, which is the one chance for fans to vote for a pitcher.

Though the Nationals have been exceedingly strict about his pitch counts and innings limits, general manager Mike Rizzo has given his blessing for Strasburg to throw an inning, should he be selected. As it happens, July 13 would be five days after his previous start.

But Strasburg would be best served pitching three days later in the NationalsĀ¹ first game after the break. For this season he is Washington's star rookie, but not its All-Star.

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