A phenom -- and a phenomenal division

Updated: April 11, 2010, 12:49 PM ET
By Buster Olney
The Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg will make his first start in the minors Sunday at Double-A Altoona. "We want him to work on the nuances of pitching," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said over the phone Saturday evening.

For example, the Nationals wanted to give Strasburg more of a chance to use his fastball when pitching with runners on base. At the outset of the exhibition season, his delivery to home plate with runners on base was a lightning-quick one second. That time was great for preventing runners from stealing but maybe not so great for Strasburg's fastball velocity, because he wasn't giving himself a chance to draw power out of his mechanics. So the Nationals have slowed him just a tad to about 1.3 seconds. "He can always go a little faster if he's trying to slow down a good base stealer," Rizzo said.

Strasburg is expected to throw about 140 to 150 innings in pro ball this year, 50 to 60 of which could occur in the minors, depending on his development. This is all very prudent, all very smart in the handling of such a special talent; scouts who have seen him pitch say he is the organization's best starting pitcher -- right now.

Another young pitcher, Mike Leake of the Cincinnati Reds, will make his major league debut Sunday. The last player to make a debut without any time in the minors was Xavier Nady in 2000.

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