Counting his five Arizona Fall League starts, Stephen Strasburg had made sixteen starts as a professional before making his major league debut on June 8th. During these appearances, Strasburg pitched a total of 74.1 innings, walking 20, striking out 88, posted an ERA of 2.18, and racked up an 11-3 record.

Despite some early struggles in Arizona, including a start in which he allowed three homers and six earned runs, the numbers Strasburg has posted have steadily improved, likely as a result of his own improvement as it relates to being a professional pitcher. He has access to a number of people who can help him with all aspects of his new life, both on and off the field.

And yet, with all the hype, with all the pomp and circumstance heading into his first start, Strasburg managed to somehow, someway, not only meet, but obliterate any singular or cumulative expectations.

While there’s not much debate in the fact the Pittsburgh Pirates offense is inept, it is only so as it compares to major league offenses. What is not in debate is the Pirates offense is, by far, the best lineup Strasburg has ever faced in his young career.

And yet he went through them like Sherman through Atlanta, like a hot knife through butter, like Wayne Gretzky through the New Jersey Devils defense.

But why? There’s no question on his stuff, but he was throwing the same stuff last week in Triple-A, and a month ago against Double-A hitters.

He wasn’t officially called up until the morning of the game, so it’s not like he was hanging around reading scouting reports on the Pirates’ hitters.

So what was it, or who, that had Strasburg painting the corners, not throwing a four seamer from the second inning to the fifth, and throwing changeups in fastball counts?

The who was Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.

It’s no coincidence the Nationals chose June 8th for Strasburg’s debut, just like it was no coincidence Rodriguez was eligible to be activated from the disabled list on the same day.

Turn back the clock to December, 2009.

Former Nationals GM Jim Bowden, in his new career as a Colin Cowherd wannabe, ridiculed the Nationals for signing Rodriguez on his XM Radio Show, “Baseball this Morning” during the Winter Meetings. 

Bowden, proving once again the best whine is made from sour grapes, said, “Following in the foot-steps of Paul LoDuca and Dmitri Young, another bad signing by the Nationals,” to which Bowden’s on-air partner, Steve Davis, replied, “This time by a new GM, at least.”

Here’s a news flash for you, Jimbo, and this points to another reason why you’re doing drive time radio, last night was the reason Mike Rizzo signed Pudge Rodriguez.

Rizzo didn’t look at Rodriguez’s .280 OBP, as a reason not to sign him, he didn’t look at his age or the number of game he’s caught, all Rizzo cared about was one thing—leadership. The experience he’s gained during his career, and the ability to guide young pitchers, as he demonstrated with Josh Beckett with the 2003 Florida Marlins and Justin Verlander with the 2006 Tigers.

People who believe in statistical analysis will look at numbers and say a guy is worth it or not, without realizing the unmeasurable intangibles that a player can bring. Rodriguez is long past his prime, yet had no trouble getting a two-year deal from Washington.

The reason is because of Stephen Strasburg, and Jordan Zimmermann, and Colin Ballester and the other young pitchers (and catchers) in the organization.

Strasburg, in his post-game presser, stated he had not seen any scouting reports on the Pirates’ hitters, nor did he have time before the game to sit down with his teammates.

When asked how he approached the hitters, Strasburg said, “I was throwing to a future Hall of Famer, I trusted him, I just threw what he wanted where he wanted.”

Strasburg’s been called a once in a lifetime talent. It’s one thing for a twenty-one year old to have three quality major league pitches, it’s something else entirely for him to have the command of a veteran and the confidence to throw them anytime.

Today the internet was full of blog articles praising the performance of Strasburg, and rightfully so. It doesn’t matter to them that last night was the first time they had ever seen Strasburg throw a ball, some of them probably still haven’t. Some of the articles were well written, others were downright embarrassing.

Today the internet didn’t have one article praising the performance of Ivan Rodriguez, which is a shame.

Because he is more responsible for Strasburg’s performance than Strasburg himself.

If you didn’t see that, then we weren’t watching the same game.

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