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MLB Washington Nationals

Can Stephen Strasburg Reach Next Level For Washington Nationals?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Strasburg made his 2014 Spring Training debut for the Washington Nationals on Tuesday against an NL East foe, the Atlanta Braves. This year will be the fifth season for Strasburg at the big league level, and he has yet to pitch a full season. Ever since his debut, he has been a must-watch phenom within the game, but he has also been a pitcher that has battled the injury bug far to much at this stage in his career.

But is he now finally ready to make that next step for the Nationals and take the ball in October?

In his rookie season he made 12 starts during the summer but was shut down due to an arm injury. Then, in 2011 he only made five September starts after months of rehab. Presumably with a full bill of health, Strasburg made his first career Opening Day start to begin the 2012 season. The Nationals had playoff aspirations, but the monkey wrench was that Strasburg was not going to be one of the guys leading them into October due to the much talked about innings limit.

That 2012 season was Strasburg’s best by far statistically posting a 15-6 record and 197 strikeouts. But fans are only left to wonder what could have been if Strasburg was pitching during the postseason. Last year, the restraints were finally off and Strasburg made 30 starts for Washington. While the bad luck and disappointment of the team led to a losing record for Strasburg, he did lower his ERA and batting average against him. However, yet again Strasburg spent time on the nagging disabled list.

Now 25, and with a new manager in Matt Williams, how will the 2014 version of Strasburg fare? The Nationals once again have playoff hopes and have a strong rotation behind Strasburg. Guys like Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, and Doug Fister will need to be equally as important for Washington either to back up Strasburg, or to carry the load in the event Strasburg does go down yet again. Strasburg has yet to prove that he is capable of staying off of the DL for a full season.

While it still may be difficult to trust Strasburg, his spring debut for 2014 was certainly an encouraging success. In two innings against the Braves, he faced the minimum six batters allowing only one hit and no runs with one strikeout. If Washington hopes to play in October, they will need Strasburg to reach that next level of elite status, and be able to take the ball every fifth day without interruptions.

His first spring outing was a stride in the right direction, but it is still a long way away from October.

Nick Schaeflein is a sports writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ptchr2424 or add him to your network on Google.