Thursday, May 20, 2010
Strasburg makes a quick, lasting impression
Time of course, will tell if Stephen Strasburg winds up with a plaque in Cooperstown, but so far the Washington Nationals phenom (I’ve always love that word) has lived up to his prodigious advance billing.
The thing that impressed me most during his 6 1/3-innings of shutout dominance against the Rochester Red Wings Wednesday night wasn’t his explosive 99-mph fastball, but his competitiveness and his pitching acumen. He kept the Wings hitters completely off-balance by mixing in an occasional sweeping curve or change up. Of the 23 batters he faced, only two really hit the ball hard. And Strasburg didn’t get flustered after two men reached on walks and two others reached on errors.
Toward the end, the Syracuse Chiefs fireballer was toying with the Wings, striking out six of the final seven batters he faced. Seven of his victims were completely frozen by off-speed pitches.
It all made for a very enjoyable night for the standing-room only crowd of 12,590 who showed up at Frontier Field.
A tip of the cap to Rochester’s classy and knowledgeable baseball fans. After Strasburg completed his 9-strikeout, 3-hit outing to improve his record to 3-0 in Triple-A, he received a standing ovation. Of course, it would have been nice if Strasburg had acknowledged them with a tip of the cap, but the 21-year-old is so intense and he claimed he was somewhat surprised because he had never received a road ovation before. If I’m the Nationals brass, I think I’d gently tell him that some sort of acknowledgment would be appropriate. Otherwise, an appreciative crowd will turn into a booing crowd, as it did at Frontier, because it believes it’s been snubbed by yet another conceited athlete.
Although Strasburg contributed to another Wings loss, I was happy to see him put on a memorable performance. Like other fans of baseball history, I want to be able to say I saw the young pitcher at his best before he was promoted to the major leagues and went on to a Hall of Fame career.
As is usually the case with big events, the Wings did another stellar job as hosts. The only glitches were when the speed pitch gauge beyond the left field bullpen didn’t register the mph of some of Strasburg’s pitches. Apparently, some folks in a restricted area actually walked in front of the radar gun. It worked OK, though, in the first inning when 15 of Strasburg’s 18 pitches topped 94 mph, with three of them reaching 99. That obviously added to the fans and players sense of awe.
So here are the staggering numbers for the Nationals’ $15-million arm so far: He is 6-1 with a 0.89 earned run average in his seven starts between Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A Harrisburg. In 40 1-3 innings, he has struck out 49 batters and yielded just 17 hits and 10 walks. Opposing hitters are batting an anemic .124 (17-for-137) against him.
The two-time San Diego State All-American and No. 1 overall draft pick is expected to make two more starts for the Chiefs before being called up. It’s almost certain he will make his first big-league start June 4 in Washington.
Expect a packed house. And expect greatness, because barring injury this kid looks like he could have a career that lives up to the enormous hype.
When my long-time friend and colleague Jim Mandelaro and I walked out of Frontier Field after filing our stories Wednesday night we were surprised to see about 200 fans waiting patiently behind a string of saw horses that had been set. Two of my friends and fellow 19th century base ballists - Ryan Brecker and Joe Territo - were among the hoard waiting to procure an autograph from Strasburg. Ryan told me in an e-mail that his and Joe's patience paid off. He said Strasburg was very accommodating and signed for about 10 minutes before heading back to the team hotel. You like to heard that stuff.