Week Ahead: Nationals will be in the news

The draft and a long-anticipated debut will put baseball’s spotlight on the nation’s capital this week, at least until the return of interleague play on Friday. The week ahead:

After thriving in junior college, Bryce Harper is likely to be the No. 1 pick.
After thriving in junior college, Bryce Harper is likely to be the No. 1 pick.

Monday: Nationals pick first

For the second consecutive year, the Nationals have the first pick in the amateur draft. This time, they’re expected to take Bryce Harper, a 17-year-old catcher/outfielder who hit 29 homers in 62 games for a Nevada junior college.

Harper would have been a high school junior this year, but he earned his GED so he could attend junior college. As a result, he is eligible to be drafted Monday. While he has caught much of his amateur career, his forte is hitting, especially the long ball. "He has excellent power and he’ll hit for a decent average. He’s not going to hit for average like Joe Mauer, but there’s only one Mauer, but he could hit for more power," one talent evaluator said.

The first 50 picks will be made Monday, with the 50-round draft continuing through Wednesday.

Tuesday: Strasburg starts

Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 pick a year ago, is scheduled to make his first big-league start Tuesday night in Washington, D.C., against the Pirates.

The hype for Strasburg’s debut is approaching that which followed LeBron James from high school to the NBA. Tuesday’s game is a sellout (his rumored first start on last Friday almost sold out). The Nationals expect to distribute 200 media credentials, according to the Washington Post, and the MLB Network will televise the contest.

By all accounts, Strasburg is good enough to live up to the hype, too. He dominated hitters in 11 minor league starts split between Class AA and AAA, posting a 2.08 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings. Duplicating that in the majors will be difficult, of course, but it’s what many are expecting.

"Expectations have been blown so far out of proportion and are so out of whack that it’s almost impossible to reach whatever people think he should reach," Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said recently. "He has to be comfortable in his own skin. We know what we’re expecting of him. If he reaches his potential, in my expectations, we’ll all be feeling good about it."

The Nationals will continue to handle Strasburg like a 21-year-old in his first pro season, monitoring his pitches and his innings. He likely has about 100 innings to work before he is shut down.

Washington could not have picked a better opponent for Strasburg’s start: The Pirates entered Sunday as the majors’ lowest-scoring club. If Strasburg works every five days — no guarantee given his limits for the season — his second start would be Sunday at Cleveland.

Friday: Interleague, Part 2

The National League will be in an unusual spot when the schedule again breaks for interleague games. The NL, on the losing side of interleague for the past six years, holds a 22-20 lead over the AL.

Last month’s weekend break for interleague served as a three-day tuneup for this 17-day interruption. The season will be nearly half over when the schedule returns to intraleague. The Dodgers, for one, will not mind getting back to normal. They have perhaps the most difficult interleague schedule with all four of their remaining series against teams that reached the playoffs last year: the Angels (twice), Red Sox and Yankees.

After 13 years of interleague, even players are ready for some kind of change. "I think the fans enjoy interleague play to see different teams and players," Indians DH Travis Hafner said. "I’d like to see the DH added to all the games."

If that doesn’t happen next year, another possibility would be for the DH to be used in NL parks during interleague but not in the AL.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

The draft and a long-anticipated debut will put baseball’s spotlight on the nation’s capital this week, at least until the return of interleague play on Friday. The week ahead:

After thriving in junior college, Bryce Harper is likely to be the No. 1 pick.
After thriving in junior college, Bryce Harper is likely to be the No. 1 pick.

Monday: Nationals pick first

For the second consecutive year, the Nationals have the first pick in the amateur draft. This time, they’re expected to take Bryce Harper, a 17-year-old catcher/outfielder who hit 29 homers in 62 games for a Nevada junior college.

Harper would have been a high school junior this year, but he earned his GED so he could attend junior college. As a result, he is eligible to be drafted Monday. While he has caught much of his amateur career, his forte is hitting, especially the long ball. "He has excellent power and he’ll hit for a decent average. He’s not going to hit for average like Joe Mauer, but there’s only one Mauer, but he could hit for more power," one talent evaluator said.

The first 50 picks will be made Monday, with the 50-round draft continuing through Wednesday.

Tuesday: Strasburg starts

Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 pick a year ago, is scheduled to make his first big-league start Tuesday night in Washington, D.C., against the Pirates.

The hype for Strasburg’s debut is approaching that which followed LeBron James from high school to the NBA. Tuesday’s game is a sellout (his rumored first start on last Friday almost sold out). The Nationals expect to distribute 200 media credentials, according to the Washington Post, and the MLB Network will televise the contest.

By all accounts, Strasburg is good enough to live up to the hype, too. He dominated hitters in 11 minor league starts split between Class AA and AAA, posting a 2.08 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings. Duplicating that in the majors will be difficult, of course, but it’s what many are expecting.

"Expectations have been blown so far out of proportion and are so out of whack that it’s almost impossible to reach whatever people think he should reach," Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said recently. "He has to be comfortable in his own skin. We know what we’re expecting of him. If he reaches his potential, in my expectations, we’ll all be feeling good about it."

The Nationals will continue to handle Strasburg like a 21-year-old in his first pro season, monitoring his pitches and his innings. He likely has about 100 innings to work before he is shut down.

Washington could not have picked a better opponent for Strasburg’s start: The Pirates entered Sunday as the majors’ lowest-scoring club. If Strasburg works every five days — no guarantee given his limits for the season — his second start would be Sunday at Cleveland.

Friday: Interleague, Part 2

The National League will be in an unusual spot when the schedule again breaks for interleague games. The NL, on the losing side of interleague for the past six years, holds a 22-20 lead over the AL.

Last month’s weekend break for interleague served as a three-day tuneup for this 17-day interruption. The season will be nearly half over when the schedule returns to intraleague. The Dodgers, for one, will not mind getting back to normal. They have perhaps the most difficult interleague schedule with all four of their remaining series against teams that reached the playoffs last year: the Angels (twice), Red Sox and Yankees.

After 13 years of interleague, even players are ready for some kind of change. "I think the fans enjoy interleague play to see different teams and players," Indians DH Travis Hafner said. "I’d like to see the DH added to all the games."

If that doesn’t happen next year, another possibility would be for the DH to be used in NL parks during interleague but not in the AL.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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