Sunday was an anticipated day for big names to make their professional debuts. Stephen Strasburg made his debut for Double-A Harrisburg. Strasburg was the overall number one pick in the 2009 draft out of San Diego State (Washington Nationals). Aroldis Chapman made his debut for Triple-A Louisville. Chapman signed this offseason with the Cincinnati Reds out of Cuba. In the Majors, Mike Leake made his debut for the Cincinnati Reds against the Chicago Cubs at Great American Ballpark. Leake was the 8th overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Arizona State.
Strasburg made his professional debut at Altoona for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators. The Curve staff fielded close to 70 credential requests from nearly 30 different media outlets. It was a circus with the media and a circus with fans and autograph seekers trying to get a glimpse of the future star. He was to throw 85-90 pitches, which is standard operating procedure for all pitchers in the Nationals system. “We’ll keep an eye on him, but I’m not going to show him any favoritism,” Harrisburg manager Randy Knorr said. “If he trips off the mound, I’m not going to run out there to see if he’s OK. I don’t think that’s what he wants. He doesn’t want the attention. He just wants to be a normal guy. If that’s what he wants, I agree with him, and I’m going to treat him accordingly.”
Strasburg went five innings, allowing four runs (though only one was earned). In the Curve’s three run fourth inning, Strasburg did not back up home plate very well on a play at the plate. On a throw home that got away from the catcher, a runner scored all the way from first base (so there are a few things he needs to work on). He struck out eight, walked two, and recorded the victory. Strasburg contributed an RBI double and scored a run. His first pitch was recorded at 99 mph (though one gun read 100 mph).
Harrisburg is trying to blend Strasburg in. The Nationals just want him to settle into becoming a professional baseball player. They have no idea what his timetable will be but really it depends on how well he pitches while with the Senators.
Cuban signee Aroldis Chapman made his US debut. He was set to throw 75-85 pitches for Triple-A Louisville against the Detroit Tigers Triple-A affiliate Toledo. He went 4.2 innings allowing just an unearned run. He allowed five hits, four of which did not leave the infield. 55 of Chapman’s 85 pitches went for strikes. Chapman was regularly in the upper 90s and hit 100+ mph a few times. He struck out nine and walked one.
Leake made his professional debut as he became the 21st player to make his big league debut without playing in the minors. It did not start out well for Leake. He walked the leadoff hitter Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome followed with a double. After a four pitch walk to Derek Lee, pitching coach Bryan Price came out for a meeting at the mound. Leake then proceeded to get Ramirez to pop up, he struck out Marlon Byrd, and Alfonso Soriano popped up the first pitch to end the first inning threat. In the second, it took just seven pitched for Leake to retire the side in order.
In the third, he got into another jam, this one with two on and no one out. He escaped by striking out Lee and Ramirez and ended the inning by getting Byrd to ground out. He did give up a run in the fifth and ran out of gas in the seventh as he walked two after getting two outs before manager Dusty Baker finally came to get him.
All in all, Leake threw 106 pitches in 6.2 innings while allowing one run on four hits. He struck out five, though he walked 7 (he did not get any close calls from the home plate umpire). Besides his solid pitching performance, he went 2-for-2 at the plate (he was a two-way player at ASU) to register his first Major League hit in his first at-bat.