Strasburg dazzles in spring debut
Nats righty tosses two shutout innings, strikes out Cabrera
VIERA, Fla. -- About an hour before making his Spring Training debut against the Tigers on Tuesday afternoon, Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg was getting ready to warm up in the bullpen when pitching coach Steve McCatty realized that Strasburg was nervous.
There had been a lot of hype before this game because Strasburg was the 2009 Golden Spikes Award winner, the No. 1 overall pick in the '09 First-Year Player Draft and he signed a four-year, $15.1 million contract with Washington. McCatty wanted to make sure Strasburg didn't put extra pressure on himself because of all the hype he had received in the past year.
"When he came out to the bullpen, we were kind of talking when he said, 'How should I go about warming up?'" Mcatty recalled. "I said, 'What you normally do. Do all this and remember to breathe.' He did it and got on the mound. [Before he went on the mound], I said, 'Are you ready?' He said, 'I'm ready to go right now.' So he had been champing at the bit for a little while."
Strasburg went on the mound and pitched two scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out two batters in the Nats' 9-4 loss to the Tigers.
In the first inning, Strasburg retired the Tigers in order. He was mixing in his four-seam and two-seam fastballs. His pitches were clocked no lower than 96 mph.
In the second inning, Strasburg faced the toughest part of the order. He threw two 81-mph curveballs to Miguel Cabrera before striking out the slugger on a 98-mph fastball.
The next hitter, Carlos Guillen, grounded out to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman on a 97-mph fastball. After giving up consecutive singles to Don Kelly and Alex Avila, Strasburg regrouped and struck out Brent Dlugach looking on a 3-2 81-mph curveball. Strasburg threw 27 pitches, 15 for strikes.
"I thought it was executed well enough to get him out," Strasburg said about the strikeout to Dlugach. "I felt it was down in the zone, and if he swung, hopefully he would have grounded out. I wasn't going to throw a hanger up there and I hoped that he was sitting on a fastball. I was going to throw [the curveball]. If it's a strike, it's a strike. If not, it's down in the zone and hopefully he swings."
Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner attended Strasburg's outing, and the first thing he thought about was Strasburg's future with the club.
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"It was a taste of things to come," Lerner said. "That's the best way to describe it. It will be exciting to watch him grow, mature, learn the game and become a pro. In the next few years as he gets starts under his belt, it will be an amazing transformation."
Strasburg said this particular start was no different than when he pitched in his first high school and college game. He was nervous back then, too.
"I just wanted to go out there and have fun," Strasburg said. "I wanted to soak it all in. I knew there would be a lot of adrenalin and energy. I wanted to go out there and throw strikes and get guys out. There's always going to be nerves. I'm not going to say that I was scared by any means. I really wanted to go out there and attack that zone.
"It's a different level of adrenaline. Obviously, when you feel comfortable out there in college, you kind of keep your cool and stuff. You have to remember to breathe. You have to remember take your time. It's great to get my feet wet, because I know what to expect next time."
The Tigers were impressed with how Strasburg could throw his breaking ball in any count.
"He is going to be good," Guillen said "Ninety-seven [mph] consistent, curveball -- nice. The thing is, he throws strikes. A 3-2 curveball/slider for a strike? That's pretty good."
Said Tigers manager Jim Leyland: "He's obviously a very talented young kid, not quite as young as [Rick Porcello]. He's very impressive. It looks like he's got a very good breaking ball. He was awfully quick to the plate."
Strasburg is tentatively scheduled to pitch against the Cardinals at Space Coast Stadium on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET. As far as Strasburg is concerned, the hype and the anticipation are over now. He can now concentrate on improving his skills on the mound.
"It's all over with," Strasburg said. "It's in the books. It's all about getting better now and try to win as much as you can."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.