IRVINE — San Diego State's pitcher for today's NCAA Regionals game against Virginia has been shrouded in secrecy all week. In fact, SDSU coach Tony Gwynn was still mulling his decision during yesterday afternoon's practice day at UC Irvine's Anteater Ballpark.
"You will find out in time," said Gwynn. "I had to make the exact same decision last week (in the Mountain West Conference Tournament) and nobody cared. When I am ready to make that decision I will let you know."
That moment finally arrived this morning when the Aztecs announced that ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg will be on the mound against the Cavaliers. First pitch is at 4 p.m. (San Diego time). The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU. The UC Irvine-Fresno State game follows at 8 p.m.
Strasburg (13-0) leads the nation in strikeouts (180) and ERA (1.24). He has walked only 19 batters in 102 innings. He was named first-team All-American and national Player of the Year yesterday by Collegiate Baseball. SDSU closer Addison Reed also was a first-team selection by the newspaper.
There had been discussion all week whether to start Strasburg or junior right-hander Tyler Lavigne (7-2), who started two games over four days in the MWC Tournament.
I spoke with Lavigne on Wednesday before the team boarded a bus for Irvine and he said he was still recovering from the experience. It made me wonder if Lavigne's readiness is what was holding up the decision. If Lavigne could potentially start two games again this weekend, then it made sense to start him today and have the opportunity to bring him back for a possible "if necessary" game on Monday. Strasburg hasn't shown the same recuperative powers and wouldn't have been a candidate to make two starts. Also, in the discussion, of course, was how the pitchers match up against the teams in the four-team regional.
I wouldn't have argued with Lavigne making the start, but I'm glad to see Strasburg get the ball. SDSU has waited 18 years for this opportunity and it's good to go with your best in the opener. Besides, while UC Irvine is ranked No. 1 in the nation and Fresno State is the defending national champion, Virginia appears to have the best offensive club (batting .333 as a team while averaging 8.32 runs per game) in the bracket. This will be Strasburg's biggest challenge.
College baseball fans around the country will get to see what San Diegans have been witness to throughout the season. Greatness. Strasburg will get prime time exposure on the East Coast, whetting the appetites of Washington Nationals fans who can't wait to see that No. 1 pick used on June 9 for the 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior right-hander.
By the way, Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said the Cavaliers will start sophomore right-hander Robert Morey ()2-0, 3.25 ERA, 70 SO in 52.2 IP). Morey appeared in 15 games this season, but made only six starts. Opponents have batted .207 against him.
Here is Tournament Central for the Irvine Regional.