Stephen Strasburg Debut: The Top Five Pitching Debuts of All-Time
Tonight, Stephen Strasburg took the mound for the first time against the Pittsburgh Pirates in front of a sold-out crowd at Nationals Stadium.
He pitched a great game, but was it one of the all-time best debuts?
No. 5: Pedro Astacio
On July 3, 1992, a 23-year-old from the Dominican Republic named Pedro Astacio took the mound for the first time in his major league career for the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Stat line: 9 IP, 3 H, 4 BB, 10 K's (Dodgers won)
While Astacio started his career strongly—he went 5-5 with a 1.98 ERA in his first year—he didn't live up to the lofty expectation he set up for himself, as he finished his career in 2007 for the Washington Nationals.
Career stats: 129-124, 4.67 ERA, 1664 K's
No. 4: Stephen Strasburg
This may seem like a controversial pick, because he is the only player on this list to have given up any runs in his debut.
But the final stat line doesn't tell the entire story. Strasburg had the command of a veteran out there, mixing up his pitching almost flawlessly, and he did not let a fourth-inning home run to Delwyn Young get to him. He settled right down and continued to shut down the Pirates. He retired the next 10 batters, striking out seven.
The one thing that really stood out for me about Strasburg was his seventh inning: Already around 90 pitches, Stephen was facing Delwyn Young. With one strike on him already, Strasburg reached back and fired a 103 mph fastball (according to both the TV and stadium radars, it was probably closer to 100), for strike two.
He then threw an 81 mph curveball for strike three, an alarming 22 mph difference, in the seventh inning.
Stat line: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, a team record 14 K's (Nationals won 4-2)
No one knows how Strasburg's career is going to turn out, but with a start like this, he has almost exceeded expectations for his debut.
Washington Nationals fans could have something special going for them for the next decade.
No. 3: Steve Woodard
Woodard, a 22-year-old out of Alabama, took the mound for the Milwaukee Brewers against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 28, 1997.
After spending two and a half years in the minors after being drafted in the fifth round of the 1994 draft, the Brewers had high expectations, which Woodward helped fuel with his debut.
Stat line: 8 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 12 K's (Milwaukee won 1-0)
After a great debut game for Woodard, he never came close to pitching this well again, causing more disappointment for Brewer fans.
Career stats: 32-36, 4.94 ERA, 464 K's
No. 2: Karl Spooner
Karl Spooner, a 23-year-old pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers, took the mound against the New York Giants on September 22, 1954.
Spooner had the most strikeouts in a debut on this list.
Stat line: 9 IP, 3 H, 3 BB, 15 K's
After this game, Spooner proceeded to throw another complete game shutout in his only other start of the year.
Many people thought that he was going to be the next big pitcher, with good cause. However, during a Spring Training game in 1955, Spooner decided to start pitching in a game without warming up, and injured his arm. He continued to pitch the rest of that season, including Game Six of the World Series. But he retired after 1955.
Career stats: 10-6, 3.09 ERA, 105 K's
No. 1: Juan Marichal
It would be incredibly difficult for anyone to top Juan Marichal's first career game. Marichal took the mound as a 22-year-old rookie on July 19, 1960 for the San Francisco Giants against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Stat line: 9 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 12 K's (SF won 2-0)
This was truly the start to a great career for Marichal. He won over 20 games six times in his career, including two 25-win seasons and a 26-win season.
Marichal never won a Cy Young award, but he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983 with a career line of 243-142, 2.89 ERA, and 2303 K's.
What Does This Mean?
Now, clearly a great debut does not mean that a player will be a great pitcher for the rest of his career. But these pitchers will at least always have one game to look back on.
You may disagree with my list, and if you do, I would urge you to share some of your thoughts.
As always, if there isn't any argument, it isn't interesting.