Coaches get sentimental. It happens. But current SDSU head baseball coach Mark Martinez is feeling especially nostalgic about Stephen Strasburg.
After he graduated from West Hills High School, Strasburg pitched for San Diego State University. Martinez was an assistant coach when Strasburg pitched from 2007 to 2009, and during an October 22 press conference Martinez addressed the impact of the current Washington Nationals pitcher, currently in the World Series.
“It’s just been unbelievable watching his career develop,” Martinez said. “He’s done such a fantastic job.”
Strasburg was a first baseman as well as a pitcher for West Hills High School, although the Wolf Pack hardly dominated high school baseball during those years. West Hills had a record of 8-17 in 2005 when Strasburg was a junior and a 13-16 mark during Strasburg’s senior season in 2006.
The 2007 San Diego State pre-season synopsis didn’t list Strasburg as a key incoming player, but he would follow his initial college season with Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American recognition. Strasburg came out of the bullpen to post seven saves, and although his record was 1-3 he had a 2.43 earned run average in his 25 appearances and opposing batters only hit .141 against him. In his 37 innings pitched as a college freshman he struck out 47 batters and walked only 15.
All 13 of Strasburg’s 2008 appearances were starts, and he threw 97 1/3 innings. Four of those starts were complete games and two were shutouts. Opposing batters hit .181 against Strasburg, and he allowed one home run. He allowed a total of 61 hits along with 16 walks, and his 133 strikeouts set a school record.
The 2008 shutouts included a 1-0 home victory April 11 against Utah. Strasburg allowed one hit, one walk, and one hit batter, and one other Utah batter reached base on an error. His 23 strikeouts that day set a San Diego State record and a Mountain West Conference record.
Martinez was paying attention to the closeness of the game, which was decided on an unearned run in the seventh, rather than to Strasburg’s statistics. “I didn’t know he had that many strikeouts,” Martinez said.
Baseball was discontinued as an Olympic sport following the 2008 games in Beijing, China, and during the Olympics the United States defeated the Netherlands by a 7-0 score. Strasburg allowed one hit and one walk in seven innings and struck out 11 Dutch batters, and he had a no-hitter for 6 2/3 innings.
Strasburg was named a first-team All-American for 2008, and he was also named the 2008 USA Baseball Player of the Year which reflected his national team activity as well as his college season.
San Diego State posted a 41-23 record in 2009 including playoffs, and Strasburg had a 13-1 record and a 1.32 ERA in his 15 appearances.
All of those were starts and two of those were complete games. Both of those compete games were shutouts including a May 8 no-hitter against Air Force in his final home appearance for San Diego State.
Strasburg walked two and struck out 17 in his no-hitter against Air Force. An additional six outs were on ground balls while three were on flyouts and one baserunner was caught stealing.
“I just get chills thinking about it,” Martinez said of the no-hitter.
During the 2009 season Strasburg allowed 63 hits and 19 walks in his 109 innings pitched. His 195 strikeouts broke the team single-season record he set the year before, and opposing batters had a .172 average against Strasburg. He was named the college pitcher of the year as well as a first-team All-American.
Martinez noted that college stars don’t necessarily excel in the major leagues, but he felt that Strasburg was likely to succeed. “We knew that he was going to work his tail off,” Martinez said.
Bob Boone, who grew up just east of San Diego State, is the assistant general manager and vice president for player development for the Washington Nationals and has held that position since 2006. The Nationals had the first overall pick in the 2009 draft and chose Strasburg.
Strasburg began his professional career with the Arizona Fall League in 2009 and started 2010 with the Nationals’ Class AA affiliate in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. After five starts with Harrisburg the Nationals promoted Strasburg to their Class AAA farm team the Syracuse Chiefs, and after six starts at that level Boone’s prediction that Strasburg would be in the majors the year after being drafted became the case.
Strasburg made his major league debut with the Nationals on June 8, 2010, and in seven innings he struck out 14 batters while walking none.
“His expectations have been set so high,” Martinez said.
Strasburg would return to the minor leagues for rehabilitation assignments after injuries, but the 2019 season was his tenth with the Nationals.