Strasburg ready to make Triple-A debut

Strasburg ready to make Triple-A debut

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The Stephen Strasburg bullet train makes its first Triple-A stop on Friday night, when he pitches for the Syracuse Chiefs at Alliance Bank Stadium against the Gwinnett Braves. How long that stop will last on his speedy trip to the Major Leagues is anybody's guess at this point.

"You hope there's going to be more than one game," John Simone, the Chiefs' general manager for the past 31 years, said about the soon-to-be-ace of the Nationals. "We've been told we'll have him at least for Friday night. Even that one start can generate a lot of energy."

The Nationals are keeping Strasburg's itinerary close to the vest after his elevation from Double-A this week, although some media members are speculating that the June 4-6 weekend series against the Reds at Nationals Park could be a great time for the right-hander's big league debut.

Strasburg is projected to throw six innings or 80 to 90 pitches on Friday night. The No. 1 pick in last June's First-Year Player Draft thinks he's ready for the Majors now.

"It's tough to say," Strasburg told reporters from the Syracuse Post-Standard during media day at the ballpark on Wednesday. "I haven't pitched in the Major Leagues just yet. Based on what I did in Spring Training, I think I'm ready for it, but they have me here for a reason."

Simone and his assistant, Mike Voutsinas, hope the stay matches Strasburg's five-start, 3-1, 1.64-ERA run at Double-A Harrisburg, and for good reason. Friday's game may prove to be one of the most significant in the Chiefs' 146-year history.

By game-time against the Braves' affiliate on a chilly and windy Thursday night, all 11,071 seats were sold for the debut. Counting standing-room tickets and suites, the throng could exceed the largest crowd ever to attend a game at this 14-year-old stadium -- 12,455, on July 14, 2001.

The Chiefs have had big attractions before: Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling made rehab appearances when they were with the Red Sox. Darryl Strawberry did the same in 1999, when he visited with the Yankees' Columbus affiliate while working his way back to the Bronx.

"Those were the biggest four days in club history," Simone recalled about the Strawberry days. "The fans loved it, because this was Yankee country back then. But this may be even bigger, because Strasburg is one of our own."

Compare and contrast: The Chiefs have been playing in front of crowds averaging 2,500 a game this season in what Simone called "frozen tundra" weather, and last year, even in the warmer summer months, attendance averaged about 6,000. So this is certainly a big deal. Wall-to-wall media coverage of the event is expected, with 30 credentials issued and makeshift tables set up in the press box near the roof behind home plate. Five people regularly cover the team, said Jason Benetti, the club's director of communications.

"Obviously, for the Chiefs' front office, [Strasburg] is beneficial, and him being here is good for the game," Chiefs first-year manager Trent Jewett said. "Any time people are inquisitive and it puts them in the seats, it's a positive. Hopefully, those same fans will come out to see him perform and realize that the other guys are very talented, too."

Big games on Friday nights are nothing new to Strasburg. Last year, if it was Friday night at San Diego State, it was Strasburg night at Tony Gwynn Stadium. As the season went on, those games also drew standing-room-only crowds to a drum roll of great anticipation and excitement. Strasburg went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA, his lone loss coming in the NCAA baseball regionals to Virginia on June 1 -- a Monday -- when he allowed only two runs in a 5-1 loss.

On his final Friday night at home -- May 8 -- Strasburg threw his first no-hitter, against Air Force, and whiffed 17 batters. Overall, he finished with 195 strikeouts in 108 innings while walking only 19.

Thus it was a foregone conclusion that the Nationals would take Strasburg with the top pick, but it wasn't a foregone conclusion that he'd sign. That decision came down to the last minutes on the Aug. 18 deadline day, when Strasburg signed a $15.1 million contract that wasn't officially announced until well past the midnight ET witching hour.

Now he's only one rung below the Major Leagues, facing many hitters who have already been there and done that.

"His stuff is electric, and he'll make the adjustment real quick," said Drew Storen, the reliever out of Stanford whom the Nationals chose with the 10th pick overall in June and who arrived here only days before his buddy, Strasburg. "After watching the way he developed at [the Double-A] level, I knew he was coming right behind me."

If Strasburg is around for a month, his next start is tentatively penciled in for right here against the Norfolk Tides on May 12, Simone said. Good tickets are still available, but evidently, they won't be for long.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.